*Periods of dormancy in shallow roots allow perennial monocotyledons to establish deep root systems, but we know little about patterns of xylem maturation, water-transport capacities and associated economies in water use of growing and dormant roots. *Xylem development, anatomy, conductance and in situ cellular [K] and [Cl] were investigated in roots of field-grown Lyginia barbata (Restionaceae) in Mediterranean southwestern Australia. Parallel studies of gas exchange, culm relative water loss and soil water content were conducted. *Stomatal conductance and photosynthesis decreased during summer drought as soil profiles dried, but rates recovered when dormant roots became active with the onset of wetter conditions. Anatomical studies identified sites of close juxtaposition of phloem and xylem in dormant and growing roots. Ion data and dye tracing showed mature late metaxylem of growing roots was located >or= 100 mm from the tip, but at only <or= 10 mm for dormant roots. Dormant roots remained hydrated in dry soils (0.001-0.005 g g(-1)). *Effective regulation of growth and water-conserving/obtaining properties permits the survival of shallow roots of L. barbata during summer drought and may represent important strategies for establishing deeper perennial root systems in other monocotyledonous plants adapted to seasonally dry habitats.