Key molecules which regulate the formation of the heart have been identified; however, the mechanism of cardiac morphogenesis remains poorly understood at the cellular level. We have adopted a genetic approach, which permits retrospective clonal analysis of myocardial cells in the mouse embryo, based on the targeting of an nlaacZ reporter to the alpha-cardiac actin gene. A rare intragenic recombination event leads to a clone of beta-galactosidase-positive myocardial cells. Analysis of clones at different developmental stages demonstrates that myocardial cells and their precursors follow a proliferative mode of growth, rather than a stem cell mode, with an initial dispersive phase, followed by coherent cell growth. Clusters of cells are dispersed along the venous-arterial axis of the heart tube. Coherent growth is oriented locally, with a main axis, which corresponds to the elongation of the cluster, and rows of cells, which form secondary axes. The angle between the primary and secondary axes varies, indicating independent events of growth orientation. At later stages, as the ventricular wall thickens, wedge shaped clusters traverse the wall and contain rows of cells at a progressive angle to each other. The cellular organisation of the myocardium appears to prefigure myofibre architecture. We discuss how the characteristics of myocardial cell growth, which we describe, underlie the formation of the heart tube and its subsequent regionalised expansion.