The Claviceps purpurea population colonising British Spartina salt marsh stands is characterised by unusually long cylindrical conidia (average 9·5–12 μm) and sclerotia floating on the water surface. RAPD, AFLP and rDNA comparison defined these isolates as the third genetically distinct homogenous population (G3) of C. purpurea. The same morphological and genetical markers were found also in S. alterniflora isolates from Spartina from the USA. All G3 isolates belonged to a chemotype producing ergocristine and ergocryptine. In phylogenetic trees based on rDNA and AFLP, a G1 population from fields and meadows appeared as the sister clade to the one formed by G3 (Spartina) and G2 (wet and shady habitats), both with floating sclerotia and elongated conidia. British stands of S. anglica were probably colonised by isolates introduced from America, rather than by isolates from species of neighbouring biotopes.