The origin of the arctic flora covering the northernmost treeless areas is still poorly understood. Arctic plants may have evolved in situ or immigrated from the adjacent ecosystems. Frequently arctic species have disjunctive distributions between the Arctic and high mountain systems of the temperate zone. This pattern may result from long distance dispersal or from glacial plant migrations and extinctions of intermediate populations. The hemiparasitic genus Pedicularis is represented in the Arctic by c. 28 taxa and ranks among the six most species-rich vascular plant genera of this region. In this study, we test the hypothesis that these lineages evolved from predecessors occurring in northern temperate mountain ranges, many of which are current centers of diversity for the genus. We generated a nuclear ribosomal and chloroplast DNA phylogeny including almost all of the arctic taxa and nearly half of the genus as a whole. The arctic taxa of Pedicularis evolved 12-14 times independently and are mostly nested in lineages that otherwise occur in the high mountains of Eurasia and North America. It appears that only three arctic lineages arose from the present-day center of diversity of the genus, in the Hengduan Mountains and Himalayas. Two lineages are probably of lowland origin. Arctic taxa of Pedicularis show considerable niche conservatism with respect to soil moisture and grow predominantly in moist to wet soils. The studied characteristics of ecology, morphology, and chromosome numbers of arctic Pedicularis show a heterogeneous pattern of evolution. The directions of morphological changes among the arctic lineages show opposing trends. Arctic taxa are chiefly diploid, the few tetraploid chromosome numbers of the genus were recorded only for arctic taxa. Five arctic Pedicularis are annuals or biennials, life forms otherwise rare in the Arctic. Other genera of the Orobanchaceae consist also of an elevated number of short-lived species, thus hemiparasitism may favor this life form in the Arctic.