Extreme climatic events such as severe droughts are expected to increase with climate change and to limit grassland perennity. The present study aimed to characterize the adaptive responses by which temperate herbaceous grassland species resist, survive and recover from a severe drought and to explore the relationships between plant resource use and drought resistance strategies. Monocultures of six native perennial species from upland grasslands and one Mediterranean drought-resistant cultivar were compared under semi-controlled and non-limiting rooting depth conditions. Above- and below-ground traits were measured under irrigation in spring and during drought in summer (50 d of withholding water) in order to characterize resource use and drought resistance strategies. Plants were then rehydrated and assessed for survival (after 15 d) and recovery (after 1 year). Dehydration avoidance through water uptake was associated with species that had deep roots (>1·2 m) and high root mass (>4 kg m(-3)). Cell membrane stability ensuring dehydration tolerance of roots and meristems was positively correlated with fructan content and negatively correlated with sucrose content. Species that survived and recovered best combined high resource acquisition in spring (leaf elongation rate >9 mm d(-1) and rooting depth >1·2 m) with both high dehydration avoidance and tolerance strategies. Most of the native forage species, dominant in upland grassland, were able to survive and recover from extreme drought, but with various time lags. Overall the results suggest that the wide range of interspecific functional strategies for coping with drought may enhance the resilience of upland grassland plant communities under extreme drought events.