Past climatic changes have caused extinction, speciation, and range dynamics, but assessing the influence of past multimillion-year climatic imprints on present-day biodiversity patterns remains challenging. We analyzed a new continental-scale data set to examine the importance of paleoclimatic effects on current gradients in African palm richness patterns. Using climate reconstructions from the late Miocene (∼10 mya), the Pliocene (∼3 mya), and the Last Glacial Maximum (0.021 mya), we found that African palm diversity patterns exhibit pronounced historical legacies related to long-term climate change. Notably, pre-Pleistocene paleoprecipitation variables differentially affected current diversity patterns of palms grouped by contrasting habitat requirements. Accounting for present-day environment, rain forest palms exhibit greater species richness in localities where Pliocene precipitation was relatively high, whereas open-habitat palms show higher species richness in areas of relatively low precipitation during the Miocene Epoch. Our results demonstrate that diversity–climate relationships among African palm species include multimillion-year lagged dynamics, i.e., with historical legacies persisting across much longer time periods than commonly recognized.