The geographical distribution of the Gesneriaceae can be roughly characterized as pantropical and pansubtropical – that is, occurring in the tropical and subtropical zones around the globe. However, there are remarkable extensions into the south and north, e.g. into temperate South America, southern Europe and northern China. When going into more detail, it is best to refer to the major subgroups of Gesneriaceae as defined by Weber et al. (2013) (see Taxonomy of Gesneriaceae I and II.)
- Subfamily Sanangoideae: tropical S America (Ecuador to Venezuela).
- Monospecific with Sanango racemosum
- Subfamily Gesnerioideae: Central America, tropical and temperate South America, NE and SE Australia, SW Pacific Islands, New Zealand.
- Tribe Titanotricheae (monospecific with Titanotrichum oldhamii): E Asia (E China, S Japan, N Taiwan)
- Tribe Coronanthereae (“Coronantheroid Gesneriaceae” sensu Weber 2004): Restricted to the southern hemisphere: NE Australia (Lenbrassia), SE Australia (Fieldia), SW Pacific islands (Negria on Lord Howe Island), Solomon Islands (one sp. of Coronanthera), New Caledonia (Coronanthera, Depanthus), New Zealand (Rhabdothamnus), and temperate South America (Chile and adjacent Argentina: Mitraria, Sarmienta, Asteranthera).
- Tribes Beslerieae, Napeantheae and Gesnerieae (“Gesnerioid Gesneriaceae” sensu Weber 2004): southern North America (central and southern Mexico), Central America and tropical South America, southwards to SE Brazil and Northern Argentina and Uruguay (esp. Sinningia and allies), the Caribbean (Gesneria and allies).
- Subfamily Didymocarpoideae: Essentially Old World, one species of Epithemateae also Central America to Venezuela.
- Tribe Epithemateae (“Epithematoid Gesneriaceae” sensu Weber 2004): South and Southeast Asia to New Guinea, one species of Epithema (E. tenue) in West and East Africa and one species of Rhynchoglossum (R. azureum) in Central America to Venezuela (but both belonging to genera centered in Asia).
- Tribe Trichosporeae (“Didymocarpoid Gesneriaceae” sensu Weber 2004): South, East and Southeast Asia, the Philippines, the Malay archipelago from Sumatra to New Guinea (the bulk of genera), Polynesia (Cyrtandra); East, West and South Africa, Madagascar (Streptocarpus and allies); southern Europe (Ramonda, Haberlea, Jancaea).
With respect to distribution, gesneriads have often been regarded as tropical counterparts of the essentially temperate family Scrophulariaceae (s. lat.). This view, however, is no longer tenable. The Gesneriaceae are not an offspring or sister group of Scrophulariaceae (which themselves are nowadays split into several families such as Scrophulariaceae, Plantaginaceae, Calceolariaceae, Paulowniaceae, Schlegeliaceae, Stilbaceae etc., all belonging to the ‘core’ Lamiales), but have an independent and earlier origin (belonging to the ‘basal’ Lamiales (e.g. Olmstead 2002, Olmstead et al. 2001, Oxelman et al. 2005, Perret et al., 2013). See also the Affinities of Gesneriaceae.