In the Southern and Southeastern Brazilian highlands, a clade of seven species of Petunia that are endemic to the region (P. altiplana, P. bonjardinensis, P. guarapuavensis, P. mantiqueirensis, P. reitzii, P. saxicola and P. scheideana) exists in association with grassland formations. These formations are isolated in high-altitude regions, being surrounded by forested areas, and experienced contraction–expansion cycles associated with the glacial cycles of the Pleistocene. To understand the evolutionary history of this group, the divergence of which is probably linked to these past shifts in habitat, we analysed the sequences of the plastidial intergenic spacers trnH-psbA and trnS-trnG from populations throughout the known distributions of all seven species. The common ancestor of this highland clade started to differentiate ∼0.9 million years (Myr) ago, which corresponds to a high diversification rate of 2.06 species per Myr in the intervening period. The high level of haplotype sharing among several species in the clade and the absence of reciprocal monophyly suggest the persistence of ancestral polymorphisms during speciation events and/or past hybridization, because no hybrid was found. Four of the five species displayed very low genetic diversity and possessed either one or two haplotypes, which is consistent with long-term isolation in restricted areas. The three more diverse species displayed significant population structure, and P. altiplana showed a clear signs of population growth during the last glacial period. These results suggest that diversification occurred as a result of expansion of the ancestral species of the clade during glacial periods followed by fragmentation and isolation during retraction in interglacial periods.