Since both internal (class–level) and external relationships of the Cnidaria remain unclear on the basis of analyses of 18S and (partial) 16S rDNA sequence data, we examined the informativeness of the 5'–end of the 23S-like rDNA. Here we describe analyses of both primary and predicted secondary structure data for this region from the ctenophore Bolinopsis sp., the placozoan Trichoplax adhaerens, the sponge Hymeniacidon heliophila, and representatives of all four cnidarian classes. Primary sequence analyses clearly resolved the Cnidaria from other lower Metazoa, supported sister group relationships between the Scyphozoa and Cubozoa and between the Ctenophora and the Placozoa, and confirmed the basal status of the Anthozoa within the Cnidaria. Additionally, in the ctenophore, placozoan and sponge, non-canonical base pairing is required to maintain the secondary structure of the B12 region, whereas amongst the Cnidaria this is not the case. Although the phylogenetic significance of this molecular character is unclear, our analyses do not support the close relationship between Cnidaria and Placozoa suggested by previous studies.