Abstract Background Plant parasitism represents an extraordinary interaction among flowering plants: parasitic plants use a specialized organ, the haustorium, to invade the host vascular system to deprive host plants of water and nutrients. Various compounds present in exudates of host plants trigger haustorium development. The two most effective haustorium inducing factors (HIFs) known for the parasitic plant Triphysaria versicolor (T. versicolor) are peonidin, an antioxidant flavonoid, and 2,6-dimethoxybenzoquinone (DMBQ), an oxidative stress agent. To date, two genes involved in haustorium initiation in T. versicolor have been identified: TvQR1, a quinone oxidoreductase that generates the active HIF from DMBQ, and TvPirin, a transcription co-factor that regulates several other DMBQ- responsive and –non-responsive genes. While the expression of these genes in response to DMBQ is well characterized, their expression in response to peonidin is not. In addition, the pattern of polymorphisms in these genes is unknown, even though nucleotide changes in TvQR1 and TvPirin may have contributed to the ability of T. versicolor to develop haustoria. To gain insights into these aspects, we investigated their transcriptional responses to HIFs and non-HIF and their natural nucleotide diversity. Results Here we show that TvQR1 and TvPirin are transcriptionally upregulated by both DMBQ and peonidin in T. versicolor roots. Yet, while TvQR1 also responded to juglone, a non-HIF quinone with toxicity comparable to that of DMBQ, TvPirin did not. We further demonstrate that TvPirin encodes a protein shorter than the one previously reported. In the T. versicolor natural population of Northern California, TvQR1 exhibited remarkably higher molecular diversity and more recombination events than TvPirin, with the highest non-synonymous substitution rate in the substrate recognition and catalytic domain of the TvQR1 protein. Conclusion Our results suggest that TvQR1 and TvPirin have most likely evolved highly distinct roles for haustorium formation. Unlike TvPirin, TvQR1 might have been under diversifying selection to maintain a diverse collection of polymorphisms, which might be related to the recognition of an assortment of HIF and non-HIF quinones as substrates for successful haustorial establishment in a wide range of host plants.