Abstract The spread of group I introns depends on their association with intron-encoded homing endonucleases. Introns that encode functional homing endonuclease genes (HEGs) are highly invasive, whereas introns that only encode the group I ribozyme responsible for self-splicing are generally stably inherited (i.e., vertical inheritance). A number of recent case studies have provided new knowledge on the evolution of group I introns, however, there are still large gaps in understanding of their distribution on the tree of life, and how they have spread into new hosts and genic sites. During a larger phylogenetic survey of chlorophyceaen green algae, we found that 23 isolates contain at least one group I intron in the rbcL chloroplast gene. Structural analyses show that the introns belong to one of two intron lineages, group IA2 intron-HEG (GIY-YIG family) elements inserted after position 462 in the rbcL gene, and group IA1 introns inserted after position 699. The latter intron type sometimes encodes HNH homing endonucleases. The distribution of introns was analyzed on an exon phylogeny and patterns were recovered that are consistent with vertical inheritance and possible horizontal transfer. The rbcL 462 introns are thus far reported only within the Volvocales, Hydrodictyaceae and Bracteacoccus, and closely related isolates of algae differ in the presence of rbcL introns. Phylogenetic analysis of the intron conserved regions indicates that the rbcL699 and rbcL462 introns have distinct evolutionary origins. The rbcL699 introns were likely derived from ribosomal RNA L2449 introns, whereas the rbcL462 introns form a close relationship with psbA introns.