Xylem traits were examined among 22 arid-land shrub species, including measures of vessel dimensions and pit area. These structural measures were compared with the xylem functional traits of transport efficiency and safety from cavitation. The influence of evolution on trait relationships was examined using phylogenetic independent contrasts (PICs). A trade-off between xylem safety and efficiency was supported by a negative correlation between vessel dimensions and cavitation resistance. Pit area was correlated with cavitation resistance when cross species data were examined, but PICs suggest that these traits have evolved independently of one another. Differences in cavitation resistance that are not explained by pit area may be related to differences in pit membrane properties or the prevalence of tracheids, the latter of which may alter pit area through the addition of vessel-to-tracheid pits or through changes in xylem conduit connectivity. Some trait relationships were robust regardless of species ecology or evolutionary history. These trait relationships are likely to be the most valuable in predictive models that seek to examine anatomical and functional trait relationships among extant and fossil woods and include the relationship among hydraulic conductivity and vessel diameter, between vessel diameter and vessel length, and between hydraulic conductivity and wood density.