Recent hypotheses argue that phylogenetic relatedness should predict both the niche differences that stabilise coexistence and the average fitness differences that drive competitive dominance. These still largely untested predictions complicate Darwin's hypothesis that more closely related species less easily coexist, and challenge the use of community phylogenetic patterns to infer competition. We field parameterised models of competitor dynamics with pairs of 18 California annual plant species, and then related species' niche and fitness differences to their phylogenetic distance. Stabilising niche differences were unrelated to phylogenetic distance, while species' average fitness showed phylogenetic structure. This meant that more distant relatives had greater competitive asymmetry, which should favour the coexistence of close relatives. Nonetheless, coexistence proved unrelated to phylogeny, due in part to increasing variance in fitness differences with phylogenetic distance, a previously overlooked property of such relationships. Together, these findings question the expectation that distant relatives should more readily coexist.