Begonia is one of the ten largest plant genera, with over 1500 species. This high species richness may in part be explained by weak species cohesion, which has allowed speciation by divergence in allopatry. In this study, we investigate species cohesion in the widespread Central American Begonia heracleifolia and Begonia nelumbiifolia, by genotyping populations at microsatellite loci. We then test for post-zygotic reproductive barriers using experimental crosses, and assess whether sterility barriers are related to intraspecific changes in genome size, indicating major genome restructuring between isolated populations. Strong population substructure was found for B. heracleifolia (FST=0.364, F'ST=0.506) and B. nelumbiifolia (FST=0.277, F'ST=0.439), and Bayesian admixture analysis supports the division of most populations into discrete genetic clusters. Moderate levels of inferred selfing (B. heracleifolia s=0.40, B. nelumbiifolia s=0.62) and dispersal limitation are likely to have contributed to significant genetic differentiation (B. heracleifolia Jost's D=0.274; B. nelumbiifolia D=0.294). Interpopulation crosses involving a divergent B. heracleifolia population with a genome size ∼10% larger than the species mean had a ∼20% reduction in pollen viability compared with other outcrosses, supporting reproductive isolation being polymorphic within the species. The population genetic data suggest that Begonia populations are only weakly connected by gene flow, allowing reproductive barriers to accumulate between the most isolated populations. This supports allopatric divergence in situ being the precursor of speciation in Begonia, and may also be a common speciation mechanism in other tropical herbaceous plant groups.Heredity advance online publication, 13 November 2013; doi:10.1038/hdy.2013.116.