The Mesembryanthemoideae and Ruschioideae subfamilies are a major component of the Greater Cape Floristic Region in southern Africa. The Ruschioideae show an astonishing diversity of leaf shape and growth forms. Although 1,585 species are recognised within the morphologically diverse Ruschioideae, these species show minimal variation in plastid DNA sequence. We have investigated whether changes in selected leaf development transcription factors underpin the recent, rapid diversification of this large group of succulent plants. Degenerate primers designed to conserved regions of Asymmetric Leaves1/Rough Sheath 2/Phantastica (ARP) and the Class III HD-ZIP family of genes, were used to amplify sequences corresponding to these genes from several species within the Mesembryanthemoideae and Ruschioideae subfamilies. Two members of the Class III HD-ZIP family were identified in both the Mesembryanthemoideae and Ruschioideae, and were derived from an ancient gene duplication event that preceded the divergence of gymnosperms and angiosperms. While a single ARP orthologue was identified in the Mesembryanthemoideae, two paralogues, ARPa and ARPb, were identified in the Ruschioideae subfamily. ARPa was present in all species of Ruschioideae analysed in this study. ARPb has been lost from the Apatesieae and Dorotheantheae tribes, which form an early evolutionary branch from the Ruschieae tribe, as well as from selected species within the Ruschieae. The recent duplication and subsequent selected gene loss of the ARP transcription factor correlates with the rapid diversification of plant forms in the Ruschioideae.