Four Gram-stain-positive bacterial strains, designated 6R2T, 6R18, 3T2 and 3T10, isolated from seeds of hybrid maize (Zea mays L., Jingke 968) were investigated using a polyphasic taxonomic approach. Cells were aerobic, motile, spore-forming and rod-shaped. Phylogenetic analysis based on 16S rRNA gene sequences indicated that the isolates may represent a novel species of the genus Paenibacillus, the four closest neighbours being Paenibacillus lautus NRRL NRS-666T (97.1 % similarity), Paenibacillus glucanolyticus DSM 5162T (97.0 %), Paenibacillus lactis MB 1871T (97.0 %) and Paenibacillus chibensis JCM 9905T (96.8 %). The DNA G+C content of strain 6R2T was 51.8 mol%. Its polar lipid profile consisted of diphosphatidylglycerol, phosphatidylglycerol and phosphatidylethanolamine. The predominant respiratory quinone was menaquinone 7 (MK-7) and the major fatty acids were anteiso-C15 : 0 and iso-C14 : 0. Strains 6R2T, 6R18, 3T2 and 3T10 were clearly distinguished from the above type strains using phylogenetic analysis, DNA-DNA hybridization, and a range of physiological and biochemical characteristics. It is evident from the genotypic and phenotypic data that strains 6R2T, 6R18, 3T2 and 3T10 represent a novel species of the genus Paenibacillus, for which the name Paenibacillus zeae sp. nov. is proposed. The type strain is 6R2T ( = KCTC 33674T = CICC 23860T).