Plant-invasive success is one of the most important current global changes in the biosphere. To understand which factors explain such success, we compared the foliar traits of 41 native and 47 alien-invasive plant species in Oahu Island (Hawaii), a location with a highly endemic flora that has evolved in isolation and is currently vulnerable to invasions by exotic plant species. Foliar traits, which in most cases presented significant phylogenetic signal, i.e. closely related species tended to resemble each other due to shared ancestry, separated invasive from native species. Invasive species had lower leaf mass per area and enhanced capacities in terms of productivity (photosynthetic capacity) and nutrient capture both of macro- (N, P, K) and microelements (Fe, Ni, Cu and Zn). All these differences remain highly significant after removing the effects of phylogenetic history. Alien-invasive species did not show higher efficiency at using limiting nutrient resources, but they got faster leaf economics returns and occupied a different biogeochemical niche, which helps to explain the success of invasive plants and suggests that potential increases in soil nutrient availability might favor further invasive plant success.