Water transport in vascular plants represents a critical component of terrestrial water cycles and supplies the water needed for the exchange of CO2 in the atmosphere for photosynthesis. Yet, many fundamental principles of water transport are dif cult to assess given the scale and location of plant xylem. Here we review the mechanistic principles that underpin long-distance water transport in vascular plants, with a focus on woody species. We also discuss the recent development of noninvasive tools to study the functional status of xylem networks in planta. Limitations of current methods to detect drought-induced xylem blockages (e.g., embolisms) and quantify corresponding declines in sap ow, and the coordination of hydraulic dysfunction with other physiological processes are assessed. Future avenues of research focused on cross-validation of plant hydraulics methods are discussed, as well as a proposed fundamental shift in the theory and methodology used to characterize and measure plant water use.