Aster yellows (AY) group (16SrI) phytoplasmas are associated with over 100 economically important diseases worldwide and represent the most diverse and widespread phytoplasma group. Strains that belong to the AY group form a phylogenetically discrete subclade within the phytoplasma clade and are related most closely to the stolbur phytoplasma subclade, based on analysis of 16S rRNA gene sequences. AY subclade strains are related more closely to their culturable relatives, Acholeplasma spp., than any other phytoplasmas known. Within the AY subclade, six distinct phylogenetic lineages were revealed. Congruent phylogenies obtained by analyses of tuf gene and ribosomal protein (rp) operon gene sequences further resolved the diversity among AY group phytoplasmas. Distinct phylogenetic lineages were identified by RFLP analysis of 16S rRNA, tuf or rp gene sequences. Ten subgroups were differentiated, based on analysis of rp gene sequences. It is proposed that AY group phytoplasmas represent at least one novel taxon. Strain OAY, which is a member of subgroups 16SrI-B, rpI-B and tufI-B and is associated with evening primrose (Oenothera hookeri) virescence in Michigan, USA, was selected as the reference strain for the novel taxon ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma asteris’. A comprehensive database of diverse AY phytoplasma strains and their geographical distribution is presented.