Throughout the lifespan of a plant, which in some cases can last more than one thousand years, the stem cell niches in the root and shoot apical meristems provide cells for the formation of complete root and shoot systems, respectively. Both niches are superficially different and it has remained unclear whether common regulatory mechanisms exist. Here we address whether root and shoot meristems use related factors for stem cell maintenance. In the root niche the quiescent centre cells, surrounded by the stem cells, express the homeobox gene WOX5 (WUSCHEL-RELATED HOMEOBOX 5), a homologue of the WUSCHEL (WUS) gene that non-cell-autonomously maintains stem cells in the shoot meristem. Loss of WOX5 function in the root meristem stem cell niche causes terminal differentiation in distal stem cells and, redundantly with other regulators, also provokes differentiation of the proximal meristem. Conversely, gain of WOX5 function blocks differentiation of distal stem cell descendents that normally differentiate. Importantly, both WOX5 and WUS maintain stem cells in either a root or shoot context. Together, our data indicate that stem cell maintenance signalling in both meristems employs related regulators.