We have used the polymerase chain reaction to analyse Ty1-copia group retrotransposons of flowering plants. All eight species studied contain reverse transcriptase fragments from Ty1-copia group retrotransposons. Sequence analysis of 31 subcloned fragments from potato reveals that each is different from the others, with predicted amino acid diversities between individual fragments varying between 5% and 75%. Such sequence heterogeneity within a single species contrasts strongly with the limited diversity seen in such retrotransposons in yeast and Drosophila. The fragments from the other seven plant species examined are also heterogeneous, both within and between species, showing that this is a general property of this transposon group in plants. Phylogenetic analysis of all these sequences reveals that many of them fall into subgroups which span species boundaries, such that the closest homologue of one sequence is often from a different species. We suggest that both vertical transmission of Ty1-copia group retrotransposons within plant lineages and horizontal transmission between different species have played roles in the evolution of Ty1-copia group retrotransposons in flowering plants.