The evolution of multicellular organisms was made possible by the evolution of underlying gene regulatory networks. In animals, the core of gene regulatory networks consists of kernels, stable subnetworks of transcription factors that are highly conserved in distantly related species. However, in plants it is not clear when and how kernels evolved. We show here that RSL (ROOT HAIR DEFECTIVE SIX-LIKE) transcription factors form an ancient land plant kernel controlling caulonema differentiation in the moss Physcomitrella patens and root hair development in the flowering plant Arabidopsis thaliana. Phylogenetic analyses suggest that RSL proteins evolved in aquatic charophyte algae or in early land plants, and have been conserved throughout land plant radiation. Genetic and transcriptional analyses in loss of function A. thaliana and P. patens mutants suggest that the transcriptional interactions in the RSL kernel were remodeled and became more hierarchical during the evolution of vascular plants. We predict that other gene regulatory networks that control development in derived groups of plants may have originated in the earliest land plants or in their ancestors, the Charophycean algae.