Bermuda grass white leaf (BGWL) is a destructive, phytoplasmal disease of Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon). The causal pathogen, the BGWL agent, differs from other phytoplasmas that cluster in the same major branch of the phytoplasma phylogenetic clade in <2·5 % of 16S rDNA nucleotide positions, the threshold for assigning species rank to phytoplasmas under the provisional status ‘Candidatus’. Thus, the objective of this work was to examine homogeneity of BGWL isolates and to determine whether there are, in addition to 16S rDNA, other markers that support delineation of the BGWL agent at the putative species level. Phylogenetic analyses revealed that the 16S rDNA sequences of BGWL strains were identical or nearly identical. Clear differences that support separation of the BGWL agent from related phytoplasmas were observed within the 16S–23S rDNA spacer sequence, by serological comparisons, in vector transmission and in host-range specificity. From these results, it can be concluded that the BGWL phytoplasma is a discrete taxon at the putative species level, for which the name ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma cynodontis' is proposed. Strain BGWL-C1 was selected as the reference strain. Phytoplasmas that are associated with brachiaria white leaf, carpet grass white leaf and diseases of date palms showed 16S rDNA and/or 16S–23S rDNA spacer sequences that were identical or nearly identical to those of the BGWL phytoplasmas. However, the data available do not seem to be sufficient for a proper taxonomic assignment of these phytoplasmas.