Trends in global soil moisture are needed to inform models of soil–plant–atmosphere interactions. Predawn leaf water potential (Ψpd), a surrogate for soil moisture and an index of plant water stress, has been routinely collected in Australian forests, woodlands and savannas, but the associated leaf area index (LAI) has seldom been available to enable the preparation of a Ψpd on LAI relationship. Following an analysis of Ψpd and MODIS LAI data from Australian forests, woodlands and savannas, we identified patterns in Ψpd which provide an understanding of the role of soil-moisture status in controlling LAI. In the savanna of northern Australia, the MODIS LAI product had a basal value of 0.96 during the dry season as compared with a mean value of 2.5 for the wet season. The dry season value is equivalent to the LAI of the tree component and corresponds with ground-truthed LAI. Ψpd is lowest (more negative) during the height of the dry season (late October) at -2.5 MPa, and highest (-0.1 MPa) during the wet season (early March). We present two models which predict Ψpd from the MODIS LAI product. These may be useful surrogates for studying trends in soil moisture in highly seasonal climates and may contribute to climate change research.