Ranunculus L. represents the largest genus within Ranunculaceae, comprising more than 600 species with a worldwide distribution. However, there are still many gaps in our knowledge of the infrageneric taxonomy and evolution of Ranunculus. In this regard, intraspecific variation of the polyploid complex Ranunculus parnassiifolius remains under discussion. To reconstruct the biogeographical history of the polyploid complex R. parnassiifolius, 20 populations distributed throughout the Cantabrian Mountains, Pyrenees, and Alps were investigated. Phylogenetic studies were based on nuclear internal transcribed spacers (ITS) and plastid (rpl32-trnL, rps16-trnQ) sequence data, analysed using Bayesian approaches as well as the evolution of morphological characters. Additionally, biogeographical patterns were conducted using statistical dispersal–vicariance analysis. The analyses presented here support the recognition of two evolutionary independent units: R. cabrerensis sensu lato (s.l.) and R. parnassiifolius s.l. Furthermore gradual speciation depending on the biogeographical territory is proposed, and optimal reconstructions have probably favoured the ancestor of Ranunculus parnassiifolius as originating in the Iberian Peninsula. © 2012 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2012, 107, 477–493.