Despite the well-known importance of all elements to plant growth and nutrient fluxes in ecosystems, most studies to date have been restricted to the roles of foliar nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P). Much less is known about cycling and pools of base cations in ecosystems and the drivers of variation in cation concentrations among plant species, even though these cations are paramount for plant and ecosystem function. In particular, little is known about the contributions of taxonomic position and environmental variation on base cation concentrations. The extent to which concentrations of elements in plants are determined by phenotypic response to their availability in current environments versus by inherent species-specific uptake and processing adaptations, should be most directly evident at the tips of the phylogeny, where inherent variation among species should reflect relatively recent adaptation to environmental variation since their common ancestry. To test this hypothesis, we explored the geographic pattern and the effects of taxonomy, climate and soil on concentrations and stoichiometry of the base cations potassium (K), sodium (Na), calcium (Ca) and magnesium (Mg) across a lineage of Artemisia species and their close relatives across northern China. We found that species identity explained the largest proportion of the total variance for all four base cations (38.3–53.8%) and their stoichiometry (35.2–59.6%). K, Na and Ca concentrations increased significantly with climate seasonality, while Ca concentration decreased with annual temperature and precipitation. Plant K concentration, K:Ca and K:Mg were negatively correlated with soil organic carbon concentrations, but positively with soil pH. Our results suggest that taxonomy still needs to be fully considered for interpreting variation in vegetation nutrition and stoichiometry along broad geographical gradients even for species at the tips of the phylogeny.