Phylogenetic relationships and the spatial genetic structure of a pantropical plant with sea-drifted seeds, Hibiscus tiliaceus L., and its allied species were investigated. The combined distribution range of these species is over almost the entire littoral area of the tropics worldwide, which might result from the dispersal of their sea-drifted seeds and from recurrent speciation in local populations. A phylogenetic tree constructed using the nucleotide sequences of a c. 7500-bp portion of chloroplast DNA suggested the possibility that recurrent speciation from H. tiliaceus has given rise to all of its allied species. Three major sequence haplotypes of H. tiliaceus had wide and overlapping distributions throughout the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Ocean regions. This distribution pattern was also confirmed by PCR-SSCP (polymerase chain reaction amplification with single-strand conformation polymorphism) and PCR-SSP (PCR amplification with sequence specific primers) analyses performed on more than 1100 samples from 65 populations worldwide. Statistical analysis using FST and analysis of molecular variance did not show significant genetic differentiation among the H. tiliaceus populations in the three oceanic regions. The results reported here suggested substantial gene flow occurred between populations in the different oceanic regions due to sea-drifted seeds. A strong genetic difference between the Pacific and Atlantic populations of Hibiscus pernambucensis Arruda was observed, which indicates that gene flow in this species between the two regions has been prevented. The wide and dominant distribution of a haplotype shared by H. pernambucensis and H. tiliaceus in the Atlantic region suggests significant introgression between the two species in this region.