Claviceps purpurea specific to grasses in salt marsh habitats (Group G3) has previously been identified on Spartina spp. in two locations: New Jersey, USA and southern England. We have identified this subgroup of C. purpurea (G3) in 11 distinct populations including western Europe, South America, and along the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts of the USA. In addition, G3 C. purpurea was discovered on a new host grass genus, Distichlis. Unweighted pair group mean analyses of AFLP and RAPD data reveal distinct structure in G3 C. purpurea populations. Pacific coast populations show little diversity, suggesting they may have been introduced recently in that region. 43 isolates, representing 11 populations were identified as G3 based on the presence of an EcoRI restriction site in the 5.8S ribosomal DNA, and a clear genetic separation from isolates representing the other two C. purpurea subgroups (G1 and G2). In addition, all isolates originating from Spartina densiflora, S. foliosa, S. alterniflora, and S. anglica were identified as belonging to G3. RAPD and AFLP analyses supported the recognition of three discrete groups within C. purpurea and revealed high genetic variability between groups, with only 1.8% of polymorphic markers shared across all isolates. Similarly, analysis of molecular variation (AMOVA) revealed that genetic variability was mainly due to variations between groups (63.5%) rather than within groups (28.5%) or within populations (7.96%). G3 isolates were 35% similar, Pacific coast isolates 83% similar. Ninety percent similarity among isolates from the San Francisco Bay Area suggests this is a recently introduced population.