A species complex is an assemblage of closely related species with blurred boundaries, and from which species could arise from different speciation processes and/or a speciation continuum. Such a complex can provide an opportunity to investigate evolutionary mechanisms acting on speciation. The Chrysanthemum zawadskii species complex in China, a monophyletic group of Chrysanthemum, consists of seven species with considerable morphological variation, diverse habitats and different distribution patterns. Here, we used Hyb-Seq data to construct a well-resolved phylogeny of the C. zawadskii complex. Then, we performed comparative analyses of variation patterns in morphology, ecology and distribution to investigate the roles of geography and ecology in this complex’s diversification. Lastly, we implemented divergence time estimation, species distribution modelling and ancestral area reconstruction to trace the evolutionary history of this complex. We concluded that the C. zawadskii complex originated in the Qinling–Daba mountains during the early Pliocene and then spread west and northward along the mountain ranges to northern China. During this process, geographical and ecological factors imposing different influences resulted in the current diversification and distribution patterns of this species complex, which is composed of both well-diverged species and diverging lineages on the path of speciation.