Several of the most studied actinorhizal symbioses involve associations between host plants in the subclass Hamamelidae of the dicots and actinomycetes of the genus Frankia. These actinorhizal plants comprise eight genera distributed among three families of ‘higher’ Hamamelidae, the Betulaceae, Myricaceae, and Casuarinaceae. Contrasting promiscuity towards Frankia is encountered among the different actinorhizal members of these families, and a better assessment of the evolutionary history of these actinorhizal taxa could help to understand the observed contrasts and their implications for the ecology and evolution of the actinorhizal symbiosis. Complete DNA sequences of the chloroplast gene coding for the large subunit of ribulose 1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase (rbcL) were obtained from taxa representative of these families and the Fagaceae. The phylogenetic relationships among and within these families were estimated using parsimony and distance-matrix approaches. All families appeared monophyletic. The Myricaceae appeared to derive first before the Betulaceae and the Casuarinaceae. In the Casuarinaceae, the genus Gymnostoma derived before the genera Casuarina and Allocasuarina, which were found closely related. The analysis of character-state changes in promiscuity along the consensus tree topology suggested a strong relationship between the evolutionary history of host plants and their promiscuity toward Frankia. Indeed, the actinorhizal taxa that diverged more recently in this group of plants were shown to be susceptible to a narrower spectrum of Frankia strains. The results also suggest that the ancestor of this group of plant was highly promiscuous, and that evolution has proceeded toward narrower promiscuity and greater specialization. These results imply that a tight relationship between the phytogenies of both symbiotic partners should not be expected, and that host promiscuity is likely to be a key determinant in the establishment of an effective symbiosis.