Estimation of leaf nutrient composition of dominant plant species from contrasting habitats (i.e. karst and non-karst forests) provides an opportunity to understand how plants are adapted to karst habitats from the perspective of leaf traits. Here, we measured leaf traits – specific leaf area (SLA), concentrations of total carbon ([TC]), nitrogen ([TN]), phosphorus ([TP]), calcium ([Ca]), magnesium ([Mg]), manganese ([Mn]), minerals ([Min]), soluble sugars, soluble phenolics, lipids, and organic acids ([OA]) – and calculated water–use efficiency (WUE), construction costs (CC) and N/P ratios, and searched for correlations between these traits of 18 abundant plant species in karst and non–karst forests in southwesten China. Variation in leaf traits within and across the abundant species was both divergent and convergent. Leaf [TC], [Ca], [Min], [OA] and CC were habitat–dependent, while the others were not habitat- but species-specific. The correlations among [TN], [TP], SLA, [TC], CC, [Min], WUE, [OA], and CC were habitat–independent, and inherently associated with plant growth and carbon allocation; those between [CC] and [Lip], between [Ca] and [Mg], and between [Mg] and [WUE] were habitat–dependent. Habitat significantly affected leaf [Ca], and thus indirectly affected leaf [OA], [Min], and CC. Our results indicate that plants may regulate leaf [Ca] to moderate levels via adjusting leaf [OA] under both high and low soil Ca availability, and offer new insights into the abundance of common plant species in contrasting habitats.