Icelandic populations of European lymegrass [Leymus arenarius (L.) Hochst.] were examined using amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) and restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) of the major ribosomal genes (18S–5.8S–26S rDNA), in comparison with Alaskan populations of its closely related species L. mollis (Trin.) Pilger. The AFLP profiles emerged as two distinct entities, clearly separating the two species, and based on species-specific bands it was simple to distinguish these two morphologically similar species. The rDNA–RFLPs also differentiated the species. Within species, the Icelandic L. arenarius was more homogeneous than the Alaskan L. mollis, and its variation was dispersed over geographically different populations, suggesting a common gene pool. The variation among the Alaskan L. mollis was more extensive and its interrupted pattern may be the result of gene introgression at subspecies level. Within a 40-year-old population of L. mollis established in Iceland from Alaskan material, the molecular profiles separated old and new genotypes. Both AFLP and rDNA revealed the new genotypes to be extremely similar. This rapid change in allele frequency is thought to be the result of adaptation to a new environment.