1. A prevalent question in the study of plant invasions has been whether or not invasions can be explained on the basis of traits. Despite many attempts, a synthetic view of multi-trait differences between alien and native species is not yet available.
2. We compiled a database of three ecologically important traits (specific leaf area, typical maximum canopy height, individual seed mass) for 4473 species sampled over 95 communities (3784 species measured in their native range, 689 species in their introduced range, 207 in both ranges).
3. Considering each trait separately, co-occurring native and alien species significantly differed in their traits. These differences, although modest, were expressed in a combined 15% higher specific leaf area, 16% lower canopy height and 26% smaller seeds.
4. Using three novel multi-trait metrics of functional diversity, aliens showed significantly smaller trait ranges, larger divergences and a consistent differentiation from the median trait combination of co-occurring natives.
5. We conclude that the simultaneous evaluation of multiple traits is an important novel direction in understanding invasion success. Our results support the phenotypic divergence hypothesis that predicts functional trait differences contribute to the success of alien species.