Fifty rhizobial isolates from root nodules of Mimosa affinis, a small leguminous plant native to Mexico, were identified as Rhizobium etli on the basis of the results of PCR-RFLP and RFLP analyses of small-subunit rRNA genes, multilocus enzyme electrophoresis and DNA-DNA homology. They are, however, a restricted group of lineages with low genetic diversity within the species. The isolates from M. affinis differed-from the R. etli strains that orginated from bean plants (Phaseolus vulgaris) in the size and replicator region of the symbiotic plasmid and in symbiotic-plasmid-borne traits such as nifH gene sequence and organization, melanin production and host specificity. A new biovar, bv. mimosae, is proposed within R. etli to encompass Rhizobium isolates obtained from M. affinis. The strains from common bean plants have been designated previously as R. etli bv. phaseoli. Strains of both R. etli biovars could nodulate P. vulgaris, but only those of bv. mimosae could form nitrogen-fixing nodules on Leucaena leucocephala.