Determining which drivers lead to a specific species assemblage is a central issue in community ecology. Although many processes are involved, plant–plant interactions are among the most important. The phylogenetic limiting similarity hypothesis states that closely related species tend to compete stronger than distantly related species, although evidence is inconclusive. We used ecological and phylogenetic data on alpine plant communities along an environmental severity gradient to assess the importance of phylogenetic relatedness in affecting the interaction between cushion plants and the whole community, and how these interactions may affect community assemblage and diversity. We first measured species richness and individual biomass of species growing within and outside the nurse cushion species, Arenaria tetraquetra. We then assembled the phylogenetic tree of species present in both communities and calculated the phylogenetic distance between the cushion species and its beneficiary species, as well as the phylogenetic community structure. We also estimated changes in species richness at the local level due to the presence of cushions. The effects of cushions on closely related species changed from negative to positive as environmental conditions became more severe, while the interaction with distantly related species did not change along the environmental gradient. Overall, we found an environmental context-dependence in patterns of phylogenetic similarity, as the interaction outcome between nurses and their close and distantly-related species showed an opposite pattern with environmental severity.