It was previously shown that most Pseudomonas syringae strains contain one or more plasmids with cross-hybridizing replication regions and other areas of homology, and these plasmids were designated the pPT23A-like family. The majority of these plasmids encode genes conferring epiphytic fitness or resistance to antibacterial compounds and those investigated in this study are essential for pathogenicity or increased virulence. The phylogeny of 14 pPT23A-like plasmids from five P. syringae pathovars was studied by comparing a fragment of the sequence of their repA genes (encoding a replicase essential for replication). In the phylogenetic tree obtained, four groups (≤88·8% identity between their members) could be identified. The first group contained the plasmids from three P. syringae pv. tomato strains, a P. syringae pv. apii strain and five out of the seven P. syringae pv. syringae strains, with identity ranging between 88·8 and 100%. The clustering of the pv. syringae strains did not reflect host specialization or previously reported phylogenetic relationships. The second group contained the plasmids from two strains of pv. glycinea and pv. tomato (95·5% identity), and it also included the previously sequenced replicon of a pathogenicity plasmid from P. syringae pv. phaseolicola. The plasmids from the remaining two pv. syringae strains were distantly related to the other plasmid sequences. Hybridization experiments using different genes or transposable elements previously described as plasmid-borne in P. syringae, showed that the gene content of highly related plasmids could be dissimilar, suggesting the occurrence of major plasmid reorganizations. Additionally, the phylogeny of the different native plasmids did not always correlate with the phylogeny of their harbouring strains, as determined by the analysis of extragenic repetitive consensus (ERIC) and arbitrarily primed PCR (AP-PCR) products. Collectively, these results suggest that pPT23A-like plasmids were, in most cases, acquired early during evolution.