Single mesophyll cells in leaf explants of Dactylis glomerata L. (Dactylis) that were competent to form somatic embryos directly or through callus were identified by semi-automatic cell tracking. These competent cells were a subpopulation of small, isodiametric, cytoplasm-rich cells located close to the vascular bundles. Using whole mount in situ hybridization, we showed that a similar subpopulation of cells expressed the Somatic Embryogenesis Receptor-like Kinase (SERK) gene during the induction of embryogenic cell formation. In both leaf explants and suspension cultures, a transient pattern of SERK gene expression was found during early embryo development, up to the globular stage. In later embryo stages, SERK mRNA was present in the shoot apical meristem, scutellum, coleoptile and coleorhiza.