We used the largest DNA-based phylogeny of flowering plants to date to evaluate the importance of energy vs. past climate change in predicting global patterns in diversification. Relative diversification rates increased towards the equator, suggesting that differences in per-lineage net diversification may be an important component of the latitudinal diversity gradient. The amplitude of Quaternary climate oscillations experienced by families explained variation in diversification equally well compared to contemporary energy measures, and energy and climate change measures were intercorrelated, making it difficult to reject either as a causal mechanism. Many putative mechanisms linking diversification to energy availability do not apply to plants, whereas the climate change mechanism has more support. We also present the first global map of angiosperm diversification, showing that, after correcting for family range-size, tropical diversification rates were fastest for clades currently in regions with high endemic species richness outside the main lowland rainforest areas.