Transfer cells (TCs) trans-differentiate by developing extensive wall ingrowths that facilitate enhanced plasma membrane transport of nutrients. Signal(s) and signalling cascades responsible for initiating this trans-differentiation event are poorly understood. We tested the hypothesis that ethylene functions as a key inductive signal for wall ingrowth formation in epidermal cells of Vicia faba cotyledons. Scanning electron microscopy of epidermal cells monitored their propensity for wall ingrowth formation. Spatial and temporal expression profiles of ethylene biosynthetic enzymes and key elements of ethylene signalling cascades (ethylene insensitive 3 (EIN3) and ethylene response factors (ERFs)) were determined. Wall-ingrowth formation responded positively to manipulation of ethylene biosynthesis and perception. It was preceded by a cell-specific burst in ethylene biosynthesis accompanied by a co-localized post translational up-regulation of VfEIN3-1 and differential expression of three VfERF genes. Blocking ethylene production arrested ongoing wall ingrowth development. Wound-induced ethylene in pod walls and seed coats caused an in planta activation of ethylene biosynthetic genes in adaxial epidermal cells that coincidentally formed wall ingrowths. A cell-specific burst of ethylene biosynthesis functions as an inductive signal initiating and sustaining trans-differentiation to a TC morphology in vitro. These events are reproduced for developing V. faba seeds in planta.