Current understanding of floral developmental genetics comes primarily from the core eudicot model Arabidopsis thaliana. Here, we explore the floral transcriptome of the basal angiosperm, Nuphar advena (water lily), for insights into the ancestral developmental program of flowers. We identify several thousand Nuphar genes with significantly upregulated floral expression, including homologs of the well-known ABCE floral regulators, deployed in broadly overlapping transcriptional programs across floral organ categories. Strong similarities in the expression profiles of different organ categories in Nuphar flowers are shared with the magnoliid Persea americana (avocado), in contrast to the largely organ-specific transcriptional cascades evident in Arabidopsis, supporting the inference that this is the ancestral condition in angiosperms. In contrast to most eudicots, floral organs are weakly differentiated in Nuphar and Persea, with staminodial intermediates between stamens and perianth in Nuphar, and between stamens and carpels in Persea. Consequently, the predominantly organ-specific transcriptional programs that characterize Arabidopsis flowers (and perhaps other eudicots) are derived, and correlate with a shift towards morphologically distinct floral organs, including differentiated sepals and petals, and a perianth distinct from stamens and carpels. Our findings suggest that the genetic regulation of more spatially discrete transcriptional programs underlies the evolution of floral morphology.