Homoploid hybrid plant species are rare, and the mechanisms of their speciation are largely unknown, especially for homoploid hybrid tree species. Two contrasting hypotheses have been proposed to explain the origin of Hippophae goniocarpa: (1) it is a diploid hybrid originating from H. rhamnoides ssp. sinensis × H. neurocarpa ssp. neurocarpa, and (2) it originated via marginal differentiation from H. rhamnoides ssp. sinensis. Regardless of which of these hypotheses is true (if either), previous studies have suggested that H. rhamnoides ssp. sinensis is the only maternal donor for this hybrid species. In this study, we aim to elucidate the maternal composition of H. goniocarpa and to test the two hypotheses. For this purpose, we sequenced the maternal chloroplast DNA trnL-F region of 75 individuals representing H. goniocarpa, H. rhamnoides ssp. sinensis, and H. neurocarpa ssp. neurocarpa in two co-occurring sites of the taxa. Seven haplotypes were identified from three taxonomic units, and their phylogenetic relationships were further constructed by means of maximum parsimony, maximum likelihood, and network analyses. These seven haplotypes clustered into two distinct, highly divergent lineages. Two haplotypes from one lineage were found in H. rhamnoides ssp. sinensis, and five (representing the other lineage) in H. neurocarpa ssp. neurocarpa. Hippophae goniocarpa shared four common haplotypes from both lineages, but the haplotypes detected from the two populations differed to some extent, and in each case were identical to local haplotypes of the putative parental species. Thus, both H. rhamnoides ssp. sinensis and H. neurocarpa ssp. neurocarpa appear to have together contributed to the maternal establishment of H. goniocarpa. These results clearly demonstrate that the marginal origin hypothesis should be rejected, and support the hybrid origin hypothesis. Hippophae goniocarpa exhibits a sympatric distribution with its two parent species, without occupying new niches or displaying complete ecological isolation. However, this species has effectively developed reproductive isolation from its sympatric parent species. Our preliminary results suggest that H. goniocarpa may provide a useful model system for studying diploid hybrid speciation in trees. © 2008 The Linnean Society of London, Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 2008, 156, 111–118.