Vulnerability to water stress-induced cavitation was measured on 27 woody shrub species from three arid plant communities including chaparral, coastal sage and Mojave Desert scrub. Dry season native embolism and pre-dawn water potential, and both wet and dry season xylem specific hydraulic conductivity (Ks) were measured. Cavitation resistance, estimated as water potential at 50% loss in conductivity (Ψ50), was measured on all species during the wet season and on a subset of species during the dry season. Cavitation resistance varied with sampling season, with 8 of 13 sampled species displaying significant seasonal shifts. Native embolism and water potential were useful in identification of species displaying seasonal shifts. The Ks was not different among sites or seasons. The Ψ50 varied among species and communities. Within communities, interspecific variation may be partially explained by differences in rooting depth or leaf habit (evergreen, semi-deciduous, deciduous). Communities diverged in their Ψ50 with chaparral species displaying the greatest cavitation resistance regardless of sampling season. The greater cavitation resistance of chaparral species is surprising, considering the greater aridity of the Mojave Desert site. Adaptation to arid environments is due to many plant traits, and aridity does not necessarily lead to convergence in cavitation resistance.