The parentage of polyploid Sorbus species in the British Isles was investigated using plastid DNA microsatellites. Four hundred and fifty-three samples from 30 taxa were screened using six microsatellite fragments, which gave 28 haplotypes. The haplotypes formed groups clearly related to the ancestral diploids Sorbus aria, Sorbus aucuparia, and Sorbus torminalis. Species in the Sorbus aria group all had Aria haplotypes (with the exception of one English S. aria), species in the Sorbus anglica group had an Aucuparia haplotype, and species in the Sorbus latifolia group had a Torminalis haplotype. Sorbus intermedia had an Aucuparia haplotype. This indicated that the hybridization events that led to the formation of species in the S. anglica and S. latifolia groups usually did so with S. aria s.l. as the pollen-donating (paternal) parent. The polyploids S. anglica, Sorbus bristoliensis, Sorbus croceocarpa, Sorbus decipiens, Sorbus devoniensis, Sorbus hibernica, Sorbus lancastriensis, Sorbus leptophylla, Sorbus leyana, Sorbus minima, Sorbus rupicola, Sorbus subcuneata, Sorbus vexans, Sorbus whiteana, Sorbus wilmottiana, and three unnamed taxa may each be derived from a single maternal lineage. The polyploids Sorbus eminens, Sorbus porrigentiformis, and S. latifolia have multiple maternal lineages. The two primary diploid hybrids S. × thuringiaca and S. × vagensis have arisen many times independently. © 2007 The Linnean Society of London, Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 2007, 154, 291–304.