Patterns of DNA sequence diversity vary widely among genes encoding proteins that protect plants against pathogens and herbivores. Comparative studies may help determine whether these differences are due to the strength of selection acting on different types of defense, in different evolutionary lineages, or both. I analyzed sequence diversity at three chitinases, a well-studied component of defense, in two species of Zea and several Poaceae taxa. Although the Zea species are closely related and these genes code for proteins with similar biochemical function, patterns of diversity vary widely within and among species. Intraspecific diversity at chiB, chiI, and Z. mays ssp. parviglumis chiA are consistent with a neutral-equilibrium model whereas MA had no segregating sites within Z. diploperennis-consistent with a recent and strong selective sweep. Codons identified as having diverged among Poaceae taxa in response to positive selection were significantly overrepresented among targets of selection in Arabis, suggesting common responses to selection in distantly related plant taxa. Divergence of the recent duplicates chiA and chiB is consistent with positive selection but relaxed constraint cannot be rejected. Weak evidence for adaptive divergence of these duplicated downstream components of defense contrasts with strong evidence for adaptive divergence of genes involved in pathogen recognition.