The phylogeny of ligulate and sulfuric-acid containing species of Desmarestia, occurring worldwide from polar to temperate regions, was revised using a multigenic and polyphasic approach. Sequence data, gametophyte characteristics, and sporophyte morphology support reducing a total of 16 taxa to four different species. (1) D. herbacea, containing broad-bladed and highly branched forms, has dioecious gametophytes. The three other species have monoecious gametophytes: (2) D. ligulata which is profusely branched and, except for one subspecies, narrow-bladed, (3) Japanese ligulate Desmarestia, here described as D. japonica sp. nov., which is morphologically similar to D. ligulata but genetically distant from all other ligulate taxa. This species may have conserved the morphology of original ligulate Desmarestia. (4) D. dudresnayi, including unbranched or little branched broad-bladed taxa. A figure of the holotype of D. dudresnayi, which was lost for decades, was relocated. The taxonomy is complemented by a comparison of internal transcribed spacer and cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (cox1) as potential barcode loci, with cox1 offering good resolution, reflecting species delimitations within the genus Desmarestia.