YABBY genes are seed plant-specific transcriptional regulators that are involved in diverse aspects of leaf, shoot and flower development. A series of duplications gave rise to five gene groups found throughout flowering plants. In Arabidopsis and other species, expression of two gene groups, CRABS CLAW and INNER NO OUTER, is restricted to floral organs. In contrast, members of the FILAMENTOUS FLOWER, YABBY2 and YABBY5 gene groups are also expressed in leaves and have been termed ‘vegetative YABBYs’. How the five paralogue groups evolved and how their expression and function diversified have remained largely unresolved, precluding a reconstruction of the natural history of this gene family. Here, we report new genes from Eschscholzia californica (Ranunculales, Papaveraceae) that we use together with currently available database sequences in a comprehensive phylogenetic re-evaluation of the YABBY gene family. Multilayered Bayesian analysis covering seed plants allowed us to locate Eschscholzia YABBY sequences within the gene family phylogeny. We established that vegetative YABBYs do not form a monophyletic clade, and that CRABS CLAW and FILAMENTOUS FLOWER arose from a common ancestor gene. INNER NO OUTER genes are sister to that ancestral gene. We identified several conserved motifs outside of known amino acid domains that define all five angiosperm YABBY gene clades. Further, we inferred the evolution of gene expression and provide evidence for release of purifying constraint in certain branches of the gene family tree. Finally, we report expression patterns for five Eschscholzia YABBY genes consistent with functional conservation between early-diverged and core eudicots.