A novel phytoplasma, designated strain SoyST1c1, associated with a newly emerging disease in soybean (Glycine max), known as soybean stunt (SoyST), was found in 2002 in a soybean plantation in Alajuela Province, Costa Rica. The same phytoplasma, or a very closely related strain, also infected sweet pepper (Capsicum annuum) with purple vein syndrome (SwPPV) and passion fruit vine (Passiflora edulis) with bud proliferation disease (PasFBP) in the same region. Sequence analysis of cloned 16S rRNA gene sequences (GenBank accession nos FJ226068–FJ226073 and HQ225624–HQ225635) indicated that all three affected plants were infected by phytoplasmas that shared <97.5 % sequence similarity with previously described phytoplasmas. The SoyST-causing phytoplasma represents a new taxon, most closely related to phytoplasma group 16SrI and 16SrXII strains. Virtual RFLP analysis indicated that the SoyST-causing phytoplasma and its closely related strains represent a novel 16Sr group, designated 16SrXXXI. Phylogenetic analysis of 16S rRNA gene sequences from the new phytoplasma strains, those previously described as ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma spp.’ and other distinct, as yet unnamed, phytoplasmas indicated that the SoyST-causing phytoplasma represents a distinct lineage within the aster yellows/stolbur branch on the phylogenetic tree. On the basis of its unique 16S rRNA gene sequence and biological properties, strain SoyST1c1 represents a novel taxon, for which the name ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma costaricanum’ is proposed with SoyST1c1 as the reference strain.