Differentiated epidermal cells such as trichomes and conical cells perform numerous essential functions in plant biology and are important for our understanding of developmental patterning and cell shape regulation. Many are also commercially significant, such as cotton fibers and trichomes that secrete pharmaceutically useful or herbivore-deterring compounds. Here, we focus on the phylogeny and evolution of the subgroup 9 R2R3 MYB gene transcription factors, which include the MIXTA gene, and that are important for the specification and regulation of plant cellular differentiation. We have sequenced 49 subgroup 9 R2R3 MYB genes from key experimental taxa and combined these sequences with those identified by an exhaustive bioinformatic search, to compile a data set of 223 subgroup 9 R2R3 MYB genes. Our phylogenetic analyses demonstrate, for the first time, the complex evolutionary history of the subgroup 9 R2R3 MYB genes. A duplication event is inferred before the origin of seed plants giving rise to two major gene lineages, here termed SBG9-A and SBG9-B. The evolutionary conservation of the SBG9-B gene lineage has not been previously recognized and its role in cellular differentiation is unknown, thus an entire clade of potential candidate genes for epidermal cell regulation remains to be explored. Using a heterologous transformation bioassay, we provide functional data that implicate members of the SBG9-B lineage in the specification of epidermal projections. Furthermore, we reveal numerous putative duplication events in both SBG9-A and SBG9-B lineages, resolving uncertainty about orthology and paralogy among the subgroup 9 R2R3 MYB genes. Finally, we provide a robust framework over which to interpret existing functional data and to direct ongoing comparative genetic research into the evolution of plant cellular diversity.