Conifers are, for the most part, competitively excluded from tropical rainforests by angiosperms. Where they do occur, conifers often occupy sites that are relatively infertile. To gain insight into the physiological mechanisms by which angiosperms outcompete conifers in more productive sites, we grew seedlings of a tropical conifer (Podocarpus guatemalensis) and an angiosperm pioneer (Ficus insipida) with and without added nutrients, supplied in the form of a slow release fertilizer. At the conclusion of the experiment, the dry mass of P. guatemalensis seedlings in fertilized soil was approximately two-fold larger than that of seedlings in unfertilized soil; on the other hand, the dry mass of F. insipida seedlings in fertilized soil was approximately 20-fold larger than seedlings in unfertilized soil. The higher relative growth rate of F. insipida was associated with a larger leaf area ratio and a higher photosynthetic rate per unit leaf area. Higher overall photosynthetic rates in F. insipida were associated with an approximately five-fold larger stomatal conductance than in P. guatemalensis. We surmise that a higher whole-plant hydraulic conductance in the vessel bearing angiosperm F. insipida enabled higher leaf area ratio and higher stomatal conductance per unit leaf area than in the tracheid bearing P. guatemalensis, which enabled F. insipida to capitalize on increased photosynthetic capacity driven by higher nitrogen availability in fertilized soil.© The Author(s) 2020. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: email@example.com.