An on-line ultra-high-performance liquid chromatography (UHPLC) coupled with photodiode-array detection and quadrupole time-of-flight tandem mass spectrometry (QTOF-MS/MS) method has been optimized and established for the qualitative and quantitative analysis of the important diterpenoids in the methanol extracts of 12 Salvia species. Specific marker components were identified for the classification of the Salvia samples by principal component analysis. The accurate mass measurement within 3 ppm error for all the protonated molecules and subsequent fragment ions offers higher quality structural information for interpretation of fragmentation pathways of various groups of diterpenoids. Thus, a total of 21 diterpenoids from different Salvia species were separated within 10 min, and were unequivocally or tentatively identified via comparisons with authentic standards and literature. This UHPLC-QTOF-MS/MS method was validated to be sensitive, precise and accurate with the limit of detections at 3.0-16 ng/ml, and the overall intra-day and the inter-day variations less than 3%. The recovery of the method was in the range of 96.2-101.8%, with relative standard deviation (RSD) less than 3.0%. The results demonstrated that the qualitative and quantitative differences in diterpenoids were not only useful for chemotaxonomy in some Salvia species but also for the standardization and differentiation of large numbers of similar samples.