Over the past two decades, several populations of cardiac stem cells have been described in the adult mammalian heart. For the most part, however, their lineage origins and in vivo functions remain largely unexplored. This Review summarizes what is known about different populations of embryonic and adult cardiac stem cells, including KIT+, PDGFRα+, ISL1+and SCA1+ cells, side population cells, cardiospheres and epicardial cells. We discuss their developmental origins and defining characteristics, and consider their possible contribution to heart organogenesis and regeneration. We also summarize the origin and plasticity of cardiac fibroblasts and circulating endothelial progenitor cells, and consider what role these cells have in contributing to cardiac repair.