Faecalibacterium prausnitzii is one of the most abundant commensal bacteria in the healthy human large intestine, but information on genetic diversity and substrate utilization is limited. Here, we examine the phylogeny, phenotypic characteristics, and influence of gut environmental factors on growth of F. prausnitzii strains isolated from healthy subjects. Phylogenetic analysis based on the 16S rRNA sequences indicated that the cultured strains were representative of F. prausnitzii sequences detected by direct analysis of fecal DNA and separated the available isolates into two phylogroups. Most F. prausnitzii strains tested grew well under anaerobic conditions on apple pectin. Furthermore, F. prausnitzii strains competed successfully in coculture with two other abundant pectin-utilizing species, Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron and Eubacterium eligens, with apple pectin as substrate, suggesting that this species makes a contribution to pectin fermentation in the colon. Many F. prausnitzii isolates were able to utilize uronic acids for growth, an ability previously thought to be confined to Bacteroides spp. among human colonic anaerobes. Most strains grew on N-acetylglucosamine, demonstrating an ability to utilize host-derived substrates. All strains tested were bile sensitive, showing at least 80% growth inhibition in the presence of 0.5 μg/ml bile salts, while inhibition at mildly acidic pH was strain dependent. These attributes help to explain the abundance of F. prausnitzii in the colonic community but also suggest factors in the gut environment that may limit its distribution.