Most plant species have a range of traits that deter herbivores. However, understanding of how different defences are related to one another is surprisingly weak. Many authors argue that defence traits trade off against one another, while others argue that they form coordinated defence syndromes. We collected a dataset of unprecedented taxonomic and geographic scope (261 species spanning 80 families, from 75 sites across the globe) to investigate relationships among four chemical and six physical defences. Five of the 45 pairwise correlations between defence traits were significant and three of these were tradeoffs. The relationship between species' overall chemical and physical defence levels was marginally nonsignificant (P = 0.08), and remained nonsignificant after accounting for phylogeny, growth form and abundance. Neither categorical principal component analysis (PCA) nor hierarchical cluster analysis supported the idea that species displayed defence syndromes. Our results do not support arguments for tradeoffs or for coordinated defence syndromes. Rather, plants display a range of combinations of defence traits. We suggest this lack of consistent defence syndromes may be adaptive, resulting from selective pressure to deploy a different combination of defences to coexisting species. © 2013 The Authors. New Phytologist © 2013 New Phytologist Trust.