© 2016 John Wiley & Sons LtdTraits for survival during flooding of terrestrial plants include stimulation or inhibition of shoot elongation, aerenchyma formation and efficient gas exchange. Leaf gas films form on superhydrophobic cuticles during submergence and enhance underwater gas exchange. The main hypothesis tested was that the presence of leaf gas films influences the distribution of plant species along a natural flood gradient. We conducted laboratory experiments and field observations on species distributed along a natural flood gradient. We measured presence or absence of leaf gas films and specific leaf area of 95 species. We also measured, gas film retention time during submergence and underwater net photosynthesis and dark respiration of 25 target species. The presence of a leaf gas film was inversely correlated to flood frequency and duration and reached a maximum value of 80% of the species in the rarely flooded locations. This relationship was primarily driven by grasses that all, independently of their field location along the flood gradient, possess gas films when submerged. Although the present study and earlier experiments have shown that leaf gas films enhance gas exchange of submerged plants, the ability of species to form leaf gas films did not show the hypothesized relationship with species composition along the flood gradient.