Annonaceae are a pantropically distributed family found predominantly in rainforests, so they are megathermal taxa, whereas Rhamnaceae are a cosmopolitan family that tend to be found in xeric regions and may be classified as mesothermal. Phylogenetic analyses of these families are presented based on rbcL and trnL–F plastid DNA sequences. Likelihood ratio tests revealed rate heterogeneity in both phylogenetic trees and they were therefore made ultrametric using non–parametric rate smoothing and penalized likelihood. Divergence times were then estimated using fossil calibration points. The historical biogeography of these families that are species rich in different biomes is discussed and compared with other published reconstructions. Rhamnaceae and most lineages within Annonaceae are too young to have had their distribution patterns influenced by break–up of previously connected Gondwanan landmasses. Contrasts in the degree of geographical structure between these two families may be explained by differences in age and dispersal capability. In both groups, long–distance dispersal appears to have played a more significant role in establishing modern patterns than had previously been assumed. Both families also contain examples of recent diversification of species–rich lineages. An understanding of the processes responsible for shaping the distribution patterns of these families has contributed to our understanding of the historical assembly of the biomes that they occupy.