Mike Hillyer wrote a very good article on Managing Hierarchical data in MySQL, defenitely worth a read;
Most users at one time or another have dealt with hierarchical data in a SQL database and no doubt learned that the management of hierarchical data is not what a relational database is intended for. The tables of a relational database are not hierarchical (like XML), but are simply a flat list. Hierarchical data has a parent-child relationship that is not naturally represented in a relational database table.
For our purposes, hierarchical data is a collection of data where each item has a single parent and zero or more children (with the exception of the root item, which has no parent). Hierarchical data can be found in a variety of database applications, including forum and mailing list threads, business organization charts, content management categories, and product categories. For our purposes we will use the following product category hierarchy from an fictional electronics store: