While drying, detached leaves produced ultrasound acoustic emissions (UAE) comparable to emissions from stem and twig wood. Experiments on Ilex aquifolium L. showed that the main source of these signals was cavitation in the veins, to which conduits and fibres probably both contributed. Regions of the leaf blade with abundant mesophyll and only small veins emitted few signals. More signals were counted on the adaxial side of the midrib than on the abaxial one and on the proximal third than on the distal one, in accordance with the anatomical structure. Sound attenuation was pronounced. Eight species were compared with respect to cavitation behaviour, field water relations and pressure–volume curves, and the data showed differences in cumulative number of events and resistance of leaves to cavitation. Data were generally in good agreement with anatomical structure and habitat preferences. The number of signals per conduit counted on cross-sections was in some leaves much higher than unity, which suggests short xylem elements or an acoustic activity of cells other than conduits. There was no correlation between cavitation threshold or cumulative number of signals and the degree of sclerophylly; unexpectedly, there was a correlation between the cumulative number of signals at a water potential of -1.3 MPa and the bulk modulus of elasticity.