UNLABELLED: PREMISE OF THE STUDY: The discontinuous North American distribution of Najas gracillima has not been explained satisfactorily. Influences of extirpation, nonindigenous introduction, and postglacial migration on its distribution were evaluated using field, fossil, morphological, and molecular data. Najas is a major waterfowl food, and appropriate conservation measures rely on accurate characterization of populations as indigenous or imperiled. • METHODS: Seed lengths of N. gracillima from native Korean populations, a nonindigenous Italian population, and North American populations were compared using digital image analysis. DNA sequence analyses from these regions provided nine nrITS genotypes and eight cpDNA haplotypes. • KEY RESULTS: Najas gracillima seeds from Eurasia and California are shorter than those from eastern North America. Nuclear and chloroplast DNA sequences of N. gracillima from Korea and Italy were identical to California material but differed from native eastern North American plants. Eastern North American specimens of N. gracillima at localities above the last glacial maximum boundary were identical or similar genetically to material from the northeastern United States and Atlantic Coastal Plain and Piedmont but divergent from plants of the Interior Highlands-Mississippi Embayment region. • CONCLUSIONS: In California, N. gracillima is nonindigenous and introduced from Asia. In eastern North America, populations that colonized deglaciated areas were derived primarily from refugia in the Atlantic Coastal Plain and Piedmont. Genetic data indicate initial postglacial migration to northeastern North America, with subsequent westward dispersal into the Upper Great Lakes. These results differentiate potentially invasive California populations from seriously imperiled indigenous eastern North American populations.