The relationship between diversity of large trees and altitude was investigated in a Tanzanian tropical rain forest. In total, 231 samples of 20 trees of ≥ 20 cm d.b.h. from the East and West Usambara mountains, covering an elevation range from 280 m to 2180 m a.s.l., were analysed. An ordination demonstrated a constant turnover of species, genera, family and orders with elevation. There were no obvious zones or discontinuities. There was no decline in plot richness with respect to altitude for species, genera or orders. Family richness was shown to increase with altitude. A measure of genetic diversity, the avalanche index, was calculated for each plot to investigate the effect of incorporating phylogenetic relatedness of individuals into the diversity measure. Distances between taxa were extracted from a recent molecular phylogeny of the angiosperms. Incorporation of phylogenetic diversity at family level enhanced the positive correlation between plot diversity and altitude.