Molecular phylogenetic analyses of 26 of the 28 species of Ourisia, including eight of ten subspecies and two purported natural hybrids, are presented and used to examine the biogeography of the genus, which is distributed in subalpine to alpine habitats of South America, New Zealand and Tasmania. Gondwanan vicariance, often cited as the cause of this classic austral biogeographical pattern, was rejected by parametric bootstrapping of our combined dataset. Alternatively, various lines of evidence are presented in favour of a South American origin of Ourisia and subsequent dispersal to Australasia. Specifically, the genus likely arose in the Andes of central Chile and spread to southern Chile and Argentina, to the north-central Andes, and finally to Tasmania and New Zealand. The ancestor of the New Zealand species probably first arrived on the South Island, where the New Zealand species of Ourisia are most diverse, and migrated to the North and Stewart Islands. Because the Tasmanian and New Zealand species are sister to one another, the direction of dispersal between these two areas is equivocal. These results agree with other molecular phylogenetic studies that show that past dispersal between southern hemisphere continents has played an important role in the evolutionary history of many high-elevation austral plants. Our data also show that within South America, many of the geographical barriers (with the exception of the Atacama Desert) that have played a role in the evolution of other plant groups have not affected Ourisia species. Within New Zealand, the phylogeny and biogeography of species of Ourisia coincide with the geological history of the country and patterns of other alpine plants. © 2006 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2006, 87, 479–513.