Although two plastid regions have been adopted as the standard markers for plant DNA barcoding, their limited resolution has provoked the consideration of other gene regions, especially in taxonomically diverse genera. The genus Gossypium (cotton) includes eight diploid genome groups (A–G, and K) and five allotetraploid species which are difficult to discriminate morphologically. In this study, we tested the effectiveness of three widely used markers (matK, rbcL, and ITS2) in the discrimination of 20 diploid and five tetraploid species of cotton. Sequences were analysed locus-wise and in combinations to determine the most effective strategy for species identification. Sequence recovery was high, ranging from 92% to 100% with mean pairwise interspecific distance highest for ITS2 (3.68%) and lowest for rbcL (0.43%). At a 0.5% threshold, the combination of matK+ITS2 produced the greatest number of species clusters. Based on ‘best match’ analysis, the combination of matK+ITS2 was best, while based on ‘all species barcodes’ analysis, ITS2 gave the highest percentage of correct species identifications (98.93%). The combination of sequences for all three markers produced the best resolved tree. The disparity index test based on matK+rbcL+ITS2 was significant (P < 0.05) for a higher number of species pairs than the individual gene sequences. Although all three barcodes separated the species with respect to their genome type, no single combination of barcodes could differentiate all the Gossypium species, and tetraploid species were particularly difficult.