Grasses have varying inflorescence shapes; however, little is known about the genetic mechanisms specifying such shapes among tribes. Here, we identify the grass-specific TCP transcription factor COMPOSITUM 1 (COM1) expressing in inflorescence meristematic boundaries of different grasses. COM1 specifies branch-inhibition in barley (Triticeae) versus branch-formation in non-Triticeae grasses. Analyses of cell size, cell walls and transcripts reveal barley COM1 regulates cell growth, thereby affecting cell wall properties and signaling specifically in meristematic boundaries to establish identity of adjacent meristems. COM1 acts upstream of the boundary gene Liguleless1 and confers meristem identity partially independent of the COM2 pathway. Furthermore, COM1 is subject to purifying natural selection, thereby contributing to specification of the spike inflorescence shape. This meristem identity pathway has conceptual implications for both inflorescence evolution and molecular breeding in Triticeae. Grasses have diverse inflorescence morphologies, but the underlying genetic mechanisms are unclear. Here, the authors report a TCP transcription factor COM1 affects cell growth through regulation of cell wall properties and promotes branch formation in non-Triticeae grasses but branch inhibition in barley (Triticeae).