Several complexes of species in Sphagnum (peat mosses) originated through hybridization and allopolyploidy, suggesting that these processes have played a major evolutionary role in this genus. The Sphagnum subsecundum complex includes gametophytically haploid and diploid species in North America. Analyses of 12 microsatellite loci and sequences from two plastid DNA markers show that the evolutionary history of this group is substantially more complex than previously thought. Two taxonomic species, Sphagnum lescurii and Sphagnum inundatum, include both haploid and diploid populations. Within each ploidal level, S. lescurii and S. inundatum are not genetically differentiated. The diploid taxa show patterns of fixed heterozygosity for the microsatellite markers, consistent with an allopolyploid origin. Diploid S. lescurii is an allopolyploid between haploid S. lescurii and (haploid) S. subsecundum. Sphagnum carolinianum is an allopolyploid between haploid S. lescurii and an unknown parent. We detected homoploid hybridization between the haploids Sphagnum contortum and S. subsecundum. Finally, we report three samples of diploid Sphagnum platyphyllum (otherwise haploid) that have an allopolyploid origin involving north-eastern haploid S. platyphyllum and an unidentified taxon. © 2010 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2010, 99, 135–151.