Divergent natural selection is considered an important force in plant evolution leading to phenotypic differentiation between populations exploiting different environments. Extending an earlier greenhouse study of population differentiation in the selfing annual plant Senecio vulgaris, we estimated the degree of population divergence in several quantitative traits related to growth and life history and compared these estimates with those based on presumably neutral molecular markers (amplified fragment length polymorphisms; AFLPs). This approach allowed us to disentangle the effects of divergent selection from that of other evolutionary forces (e.g. genetic drift). Five populations were examined from each of two habitat types (ruderal and agricultural habitats). We found a high proportion of total genetic variance to be among populations, both for AFLP markers (φST = 0.49) and for quantitative traits (range of QST: 0.26–0.77). There was a strong correlation between molecular and quantitative genetic differentiation between pairs of populations (Mantel's r = 0.59). However, estimates of population differentiation in several quantitative traits exceeded the neutral expectation (estimated from AFLP data), suggesting that divergent selection contributed to phenotypic differentiation, especially between populations from ruderal and agricultural habitats. Estimates of within-population variation in AFLP markers and quantitative genetic were poorly correlated, indicating that molecular marker data may be of limited value to predict the evolutionary potential of populations of S. vulgaris.