The originality of a species is how much that species contributes to the rarity of traits in a community. Here we tested the relation between abundance and both phylogenetic and phenotypic originality. We measured nine traits associated with defence against herbivory, as well as phylogenetic information and abundance for woody plant species in a woodland cerrado in southeastern Brazil. About 90% of the species accounted for about 50% of the phylogenetic and phenotypic originality: most woody species had low originality. Abundance was related to tougher leaves, lower specific leaf area and lower originality based on nutritional quality. Our results suggest that herbivory may reduce the abundance of species with low resistance to herbivory and with different nutritional quality. Nevertheless, abundance was not related to either phylogenetic or phenotypic originality, so extinction of rare species may not endanger overall community function as long as more abundant species are retained. We argue that this is a consequence of the low complementarity of a large number of woody species.