Tecophilaeaceae is a small family with a peculiar disjunct distribution in California, Chile and southern and tropical mainland Africa, and occurs mainly in arid regions, including three Mediterranean-type ecosystems. Buerki et al. examine the evolutionary history of this family in space and time using plastid DNA sequence data in order to understand how such biogeographical patterns could have arisen. They find that the distribution and diversification of the family were influenced primarily by the break-up of Gondwana, separating the family into two main clades, and the establishment of a Mediterranean climate in Chile. Tecophilaeaceae are now most diverse in arid regions of southern Africa, but with a likely origin in sub-tropical Africa, with subsequent colonization of the Mediterranean-type ecosystems but well before the onset of these climate-types.