Maize (Zea mays) and bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) have been traditionally grown in association for thousands of years in Mesoamerica. From surface sterilized maize roots, we have isolated over 60 Rhizobium strains that correspond to Rhizobium etli bv. phaseoli (the main symbiont of bean) on the basis of 16S rRNA gene restriction patterns, metabolic enzyme electropherotypes, organization of nif genes, and the ability to nodulate beans. The colonization capacity of some of the isolates was tested with an unimproved maize cultivar and with 30 maize land races. Increases in plant dry weight upon R. etli inoculation were recorded with some of the land races, and these increases may be related to plant growth promotion effects. Additionally, from within maize grown in monoculture we have also recovered R. etli isolates recognizable by their 16S rRNA gene types, which lack nif genes and are incapable of nodulating bean. These strains are presumed to correspond to the earlier described non-symbiotic R. etli obtained from bean rhizosphere.