Understanding causal factors of exotic species invasions is important not only for prevention and prioritizing control efforts, but also for providing valuable insights into the underlying biology of contrasting life-history strategies. In seedling growth analyses, invasive woody species were compared with less-invasive woody species commonly cultivated in California using phylogenetically corrected procedures (12 phylogenetically independent contrasts). Invasive species were hypothesized to have higher seedling relative growth rates (RGRs) and specific leaf areas (SLAs) than did related less-invasive species. In phylogenetically independent contrasts conducted among taxa within families, high seedling RGRs and SLAs have significant positive associations with woody plant invasiveness. For contrasts containing species invasive in mediterranean regions, invasive species had significantly larger root biomass allocation than did less-invasive species. Optimization of fast seedling growth (high RGR) associated with opportunistic resource acquisition (high SLA) and increased root allocation to survive summer drought may be critical for the success of plant invaders in regions with mediterranean climates.