Recent experimental work in lung morphogenesis has described an elegant pattern of branching phenomena. Two primary forms of branching have been identified: side branching and tip splitting. In our previous study of lung branching morphogenesis, we used a 4 variable partial differential equation (PDE), due to Meinhardt, as our mathematical model to describe the reaction and diffusion of morphogens creating those branched patterns. By altering key parameters in the model, we were able to reproduce all the branching styles and the switch between branching modes. Here, we attempt to explain the branching phenomena described above, as growing out of two fundamental instabilities, one in the longitudinal (growth) direction and the other in the transverse direction. We begin by decoupling the original branching process into two semi-independent sub-processes, 1) a classic activator/inhibitor system along the growing stalk, and 2) the spatial growth of the stalk. We then reduced the full branching model into an activator/inhibitor model that embeds growth of the stalk as a controllable parameter, to explore the mechanisms that determine different branching patterns. We found that, in this model, 1) side branching results from a pattern-formation instability of the activator/inhibitor subsystem in the longitudinal direction. This instability is far from equilibrium, requiring a large inhomogeneity in the initial conditions. It successively creates periodic activator peaks along the growing stalk, each of which later on migrates out and forms a side branch; 2) tip splitting is due to a Turing-style instability along the transversal direction, that creates the spatial splitting of the activator peak into 2 simultaneously-formed peaks at the growing tip, the occurrence of which requires the widening of the growing stalk. Tip splitting is abolished when transversal stalk widening is prevented; 3) when both instabilities are satisfied, tip bifurcation occurs together with side branching. © 2014 Guo et al.