Precipitation and temperature are known to have important effects on forest productivity, but these effects may be strongly mediated through their influence on soil and leaf nutrients. We measured indicators of forest productivity and soil and leaf nutrients across independent gradients of precipitation and elevation/temperature in lower montane Hawaiian forests dominated by a single overstorey species, Acacia koa, situated on 1500–3000-y-old soils that were mixtures of volcanic ash and basalt. Stand basal area was highest at the wettest site, 2000 mm mean annual precipitation (MAP), and leaf N and P were lowest at the driest site, 1000 mm MAP. Soil N availability and leaf N concentration declined across an 850-m elevation gradient, but this was not correlated with stand basal area or soil organic matter content. Across all stands, basal area was negatively correlated with the exchangeable soil P fraction. As well, the soil C:N ratio was negatively correlated with both soil P availability and the size of the primary mineral P fraction. Soil P availability and weathering appear to be important determinants of soil organic matter quantity and quality. Overall, precipitation is the major driving force for forest productivity, but P weathering and availability play important roles in limiting productivity in wetter sites and in controlling soil organic matter dynamics in these N-fixing forests.