Due to their maternal mode of inheritance, mitochondrial markers can be regarded as almost 'ideal' tools in evolutionary studies of conifer populations. In the present study, polymorphism was analysed at one mitochondrial intron (nad 1, exon B/C) in 23 native European Pinus sylvestris populations. In a preliminary screening for variation using a polymerase chain reaction-restriction fragment length polymorphism approach, two length variants were identified. By fully sequencing the 2.5 kb region, the observed length polymorphism was found to result from the insertion of a 31 bp sequence, with no other mutations observed within the intron. A set of primers was designed flanking the observed mutation, which identified a novel sequence-tagged-site mitochondrial marker for P. sylvestris. Analysis of 747 trees from the 23 populations using these primers revealed the occurrence of two distinct haplotypes in Europe. Within the Iberian Peninsula, the two haplotypes exhibited extensive population differentiation (Phi(ST) = 0.59; P less than or equal to 0.001) and a marked geographical structuring. In the populations of central and northern Europe, one haplotype largely predominated, with the second being found in only one individual of one population.