Burkholderia cepacia is a ‘complex’ in which seven genomic species or genomovars have so far been identified. It appears that all seven B. cepacia genomovars are capable of causing infections in vulnerable persons; in particular, the importance of Burkholderia multivorans (genomovar II) and B. cepacia genomovar III among cystic fibrosis isolates, especially epidemic ones, has been emphasized. In order to acquire a better comprehension of the genomovar composition of environmental populations of B. cepacia, 120 strains were isolated from the rhizosphere of maize plants cultivated in fields located in northern, central and southern Italy. The identification of the different genomovars was accomplished by a combination of molecular polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based techniques, such as restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) analysis of 16S rDNA (ARDRA), genomovar-specific PCR tests and RFLP analyses based on polymorphisms in the recA gene whole-cell protein electrophoresis. ARDRA analysis allowed us to distinguish between all B. cepacia genomovars except B. cepacia genomovar I, B. cepacia genomovar III and Burkholderia ambifaria (genomovar VII). The latter genomovars were differentiated by means of recA PCR tests and RFLP analyses. Among the rhizospheric isolates of B. cepacia, we found only B. cepacia genomovar I, B. cepacia genomovar III, Burkholderia vietnamiensis (genomovar V) and B. ambifaria. B. cepacia genomovars I and III and B. ambifaria were recovered from all three fields, whereas B. vietnamiensis was detected only in the population isolated from the field located in central Italy. Among strains isolated from northern and southern Italy, the most abundant genomovars were B. ambifaria and B. cepacia genomovar III respectively; in contrast, the population isolated in central Italy showed an even distribution of strains among genomovars. These results indicate that it is not possible to differentiate clinical and environmental strains, or pathogenic and non-pathogenic strains, of the B. cepacia complex simply on the basis of genomovar status, and that the environment may serve as a reservoir for B. cepacia genomovar III infections in vulnerable humans.