The molecular biogeography of the disjunctly distributed and morphologically highly variable species Saxifraga paniculata Mill. was analysed using amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) and chloroplast microsatellites. The study comprised 77 samples from mountain regions in Europe and North America throughout the complete range of distribution. AFLP data revealed clear genetic differentiation between samples from the Arctic, the Caucasus, and the eastern European mountains. Samples from the Alps were divided into two groups. One group clustered with the samples from central Europe and the Pyrenees, whereas another group with individuals from southern Norway. AFLP diversity was lowest in the Arctic and highest in the Alps. Chloroplast microsatellite analysis revealed eight haplotypes but no unequivocal phylogeographical pattern. However, haplotype diversity was highest in the Alps and central Europe whereas, in the Arctic, only few widespread haplotypes could be found. The results indicate in situ survival of S. paniculata in the Caucasus, the eastern European mountains, and the Alps. The Arctic has presumably been colonized postglacially from North American refugia south of the ice shield. Southern Norway and the Pyrenees have most likely been colonized from two phylogeographically different groups in the Alps. The origin of the central European samples remains ambiguous. In situ survival seems to be as possible as several postglacial recolonization events from the Alps. The obtained molecular data clearly support the subdivision of S. paniculata into three subspecies: ssp. cartilaginea from the Caucasus, ssp. laestadii from northern Norway, Iceland, and North America, and ssp. paniculata from the other geographical regions. © 2008 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2008, 93, 385–398.