Darwin’s dual interests in evolution and plants formed the basis of evolutionary botany, a field that developed following his publications on both topics. Here, we review his many contributions to plant biology—from the evolutionary origins of angiosperms to plant reproduction, carnivory, and movement—and note that he expected one day there would be a ‘true’ genealogical tree for plants. This view fuelled the field of plant phylogenetics. With perhaps nearly 400 000 species, the angiosperms have diversified rapidly since their origin in the Early Cretaceous, often through what appear to be rapid radiations. We describe these evolutionary patterns, evaluate possible drivers of radiations, consider how new approaches to studies of diversification can contribute to our understanding of angiosperm diversity, and suggest new directions for further insight into plant evolution.