Leptolaena Thouars is one of the first described genera within Sarcolaenaceae, but represents the last great species-level taxonomic challenge in this endemic Malagasy plant family. As currently circumscribed, this genus comprises three subgenera, two of which, Mediusella Cavaco and Xerochlamys (Baker) Cavaco, exhibit patterns of morphological variation that have been understood differently and have led to an unstable taxonomy, such that a consensus on the delimitation of species has yet to be reached. Principal component analysis of morphological characters was performed on 211 herbarium specimens in order to evaluate the morphological variation within the two subgenera and to clarify historically problematical species boundaries. The results showed that ten entities could be distinguished on the basis of vegetative, floral, and fruit characters, and that they provide a robust basis for proposing a new species-level taxonomic framework. © 2008 The Linnean Society of London, Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 2008, 157, 559–574.