Leaves are extraordinarily variable in form, longevity, venation architecture, and capacity for photosynthetic gas exchange. Much of this diversity is linked with water transport capacity. The pathways through the leaf constitute a substantial (>or=30%) part of the resistance to water flow through plants, and thus influence rates of transpiration and photosynthesis. Leaf hydraulic conductance (K(leaf)) varies more than 65-fold across species, reflecting differences in the anatomy of the petiole and the venation architecture, as well as pathways beyond the xylem through living tissues to sites of evaporation. K(leaf) is highly dynamic over a range of time scales, showing circadian and developmental trajectories, and responds rapidly, often reversibly, to changes in temperature, irradiance, and water supply. This review addresses how leaf structure and physiology influence K(leaf), and the mechanisms by which K(leaf) contributes to dynamic functional responses at the level of both individual leaves and the whole plant.