The Cape Floristic Region is exceptionally species-rich both for its area and latitude, and this diversity is highly unevenly distributed among genera. The modern flora is hypothesized to result largely from recent (post-Oligocene) speciation, and it has long been speculated that particular species-poor lineages pre-date this burst of speciation. Here, we employ molecular phylogenetic data in combination with fossil calibrations to estimate the minimum duration of Cape occupation by 14 unrelated putative relicts. Estimates vary widely between lineages (7–101 Myr ago), and when compared with the estimated timing of onset of the modern flora's radiation, it is clear that many, but possibly not all, of these lineages pre-date its establishment. Statistical comparisons of diversities with lineage age show that low species diversity of many of the putative relicts results from a lower rate of diversification than in dated Cape radiations. In other putative relicts, however, we cannot reject the possibility that they diversify at the same underlying rate as the radiations, but have been present in the Cape for insufficient time to accumulate higher diversity. Although the extremes in diversity of currently dated Cape lineages fall outside expectations under a constant underlying diversification rate, sampling of all Cape lineages would be required to reject this null hypothesis.