Abstract Aim To investigate the distribution of Australian species of Sauropus. The information obtained is used to (1) identify areas of highest richness and centres of endemism, (2) investigate latitudinal gradients of richness and range size, (3) determine the types of rarity shown, and (4) provide hypotheses on historical biogeography of the genus within Australia. Location Australia. Methods Specimens from 17 herbaria and field searches were examined and label and field information collated on distribution, habit and habitat. Distribution information was used to map all species within 784 grid cells of 1° × 1° and within the 97 Australian ‘ecological regions’. Morphometric cluster analysis of species was conducted using Kulczynski association and flexible UPGMA on 23 character states. Simple regression was used to correlate species richness, density and range size to changes in latitude. CLIMEX is used to match the climate of the region of highest richness in Australia with other areas of the world. Results Species richness was highest within the tropical north of Australia, and most species were associated with tropical savanna woodlands. Two areas were identified as centres of endemism and these corresponded closely to areas of high species richness. Four morphological groups were identified. One species (Sauropus trachyspermus) was found to be widespread, however all other species had small geographical ranges. Species richness and range size were significantly correlated with changes in latitude. Ten species were found to be of the rarest type, warranting conservation initiatives. Main conclusions Two regions of high richness and endemism of Sauropus occur, Thailand and Australia. Within Australia, the Kakadu-Alligator River and the Cairns-Townsville areas were identified as centres of endemism and high species richness for Sauropus. Australian Sauropus in general occur in similar communities and climates as other members of the genus elsewhere. Ten of the 27 species of Australian endemic Sauropus are extremely rare and warrant conservation initiatives. Correlations of latitude to species richness are potentially due to Sauropus radiating from the climatically stable top end of Australia. Increasing range size in more southern latitudes may also be due to stability of climates in the top end or because there is more available land area at these latitudes. Sauropus micranthus, the only non-endemic species, is probably a more recent invader from the Tertiary period when tropical rain forests where more extensive and congruent with those of New Guinea.