The Cupressaceae clade has the broadest diversity in habitat and morphology of any conifer family. This clade is characterized by highly divergent physiological strategies, with deciduous swampadapted genera-like Taxodium at one extreme, and evergreen desert genera-like Cupressus at the other. The size disparity within the Cupressaceae is equally impressive, with members ranging from 5-m-tall juniper shrubs to 100-m-tall redwood trees. Phylogenetic studies demonstrate that despite this variation, these taxa all share a single common ancestor; by extension, they also share a common ancestral habitat. Here, we use a common-garden approach to compare xylem and leaf-level physiology in this family. We then apply comparative phylogenetic methods to infer how Cenozoic climatic change shaped the morphological and physiological differences between modern-day members of the Cupressaceae. Our data show that drought-resistant crown clades (the Cupressoid and Callitroid clades) most likely evolved from drought-intolerant Mesozoic ancestors, and that this pattern is consistent with proposed shifts in post-Eocene paleoclimates. We also provide evidence that within the Cupressaceae, the evolution of drought-resistant xylem is coupled to increased carbon investment in xylem tissue, reduced xylem transport efficiency, and at the leaf level, reduced photosynthetic capacity. Phylogenetically based analyses suggest that the ancestors of the Cupressaceae were dependent upon moist habitats, and that drought-resistant physiology developed along with increasing habitat aridity from the Oligocene onward. We conclude that the modern biogeography of the Cupressaceae conifers was shaped in large part by their capacity to adapt to drought.