Many recent studies on drought-induced vegetation mortality have explored how plant functional traits, and classifications of such traits along axes of, for example, isohydry-anisohydry, might contribute to predicting drought survival and recovery. As these studies proliferate, the consistency and predictive value of such classifications need to be carefully examined. Here, we outline the basis for a systematic classification of plant drought responses that accounts for both environmental conditions and functional traits. We use non-dimensional analysis to integrate plant traits and metrics of environmental variation into groups that can be associated with alternative drought stress pathways (hydraulic failure and carbon limitation), and demonstrate that these groupings predict physiological drought outcomes using both synthetic and measured data. In doing so, we aim to untangle some confounding effects of environment and trait variations that undermine current classification schemes, advocate for more careful treatment of the environmental context within which plants experience and respond to drought, and outline a pathway towards a general classification of drought vulnerability.