Bacterial leaf symbiosis is a unique and intimate interaction between bacteria and flowering plants, in which endosymbionts are organized in specialized leaf structures. Previously, bacterial leaf symbiosis has been described as a cyclic and obligate interaction in which the endosymbionts are vertically transmitted between plant generations and lack autonomous growth. Theoretically this allows for co-speciation between leaf nodulated plants and their endosymbionts. We sequenced the nodulated Burkholderia endosymbionts of 54 plant species from known leaf nodulated angiosperm genera, i.e. Ardisia, Pavetta, Psychotria and Sericanthe. Phylogenetic reconstruction of bacterial leaf symbionts and closely related free-living bacteria indicates the occurrence of multiple horizontal transfers of bacteria from the environment to leaf nodulated plant species. This rejects the hypothesis of a long co-speciation process between the bacterial endosymbionts and their host plants. Our results indicate a recent evolutionary process towards a stable and host specific interaction confirming the proposed maternal transmission mode of the endosymbionts through the seeds. Divergence estimates provide evidence for a relatively recent origin of bacterial leaf symbiosis, dating back to the Miocene (5–23 Mya). This geological epoch was characterized by cool and arid conditions, which may have triggered the origin of bacterial leaf symbiosis.