Paleontology yields essential evidence for inferring not only the pattern of evolution, but also the genetic basis of evolution within an ontogenetic framework. Plant fossils provide evidence for the pattern of plant evolution in the form of transformational series of structure through time. Developmentally diagnostic structural features that serve as “fingerprints” of regulatory genetic pathways also are preserved by plant fossils, and here we provide examples of how those fingerprints can be used to infer the mechanisms by which plant form and development have evolved. When coupled with an understanding of variations and systematic distributions of specific regulatory genetic pathways, this approach provides an avenue for testing evolutionary hypotheses at the organismal level that is analogous to employing bioinformatics to explore genetics at the genomic level. The positions where specific genes, gene families, and developmental regulatory mechanisms first appear in phylogenies are correlated with the positions where fossils with the corresponding structures occur on the tree, thereby yielding testable hypotheses that extend our understanding of the role of developmental changes in the evolution of the body plans of vascular plant sporophytes. As a result, we now have new and powerful methodologies for characterizing major evolutionary changes in morphology, anatomy, and physiology that have resulted from combinations of genetic regulatory changes and that have produced the synapomorphies by which we recognize major clades of plants.