To reveal the general cytogeographical pattern of Cyanus section Protocyanus in Europe, DNA ploidy and/or chromosome numbers were newly examined for 160 populations by flow cytometry (450 plants) and/or chromosome counting (30 plants). Furthermore, previously published karyological data were revised (236 records). Our analyses confirmed chromosome counts of 2n = 22 for all newly investigated samples of the C. triumfetti group (the records for C. semidecurrens and C. ternopoliensis are new), C. diospolitanus and C. achtarovii; 2n = 44 for C. montanus and C. mollis; and 2n = 20 for C. lingulatus, C. napulifer, C. nissanus, C. orbelicus, C. thirkei, C. tuberosus and C. velenovskyi. The chromosome count of 2n = 20 is the first report for C. epirotus. The cytotype 2n = 40 was newly recorded for the Crimean endemic C. fuscomarginatus and Calabrian and Greek populations of C. graminifolius. The cytotypes 2n = 20 and 2n = 40 were confirmed for C. pindicola. For the first time triploidy (2n∼3x∼30) was found in C. nissanus, C. thirkei and in a newly discovered hybrid, C. epirotus × C. graminifolius. Two contrasting ecogeographical patterns emerged: cytotypes derived from the base chromosome number x = 11 (2n = 22, 44) are widespread in northern latitudes and ecologically diverse, whereas cytotypes with x = 10 (2n = 20, 30, 40) are confined to mountains in southern Europe. In general, tetraploids have smaller ranges than diploids. The new combinations Cyanus section Protocyanus (Dobrocz.) Olšavská comb. nov. and Cyanus ternopoliensis (Dobrocz.) Olšavská comb. nov. are provided. © 2013 The Linnean Society of London, Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 2013, 173, 230–257.