ABSTRACT Plant development is influenced by several abiotic factors, which in turn influence morphological traits and life history. We investigated whether leaf area, herbivory, toughness, fluctuating asymmetry, structural complexity and the number of inflorescences of Palicourea rigida are influenced by sun/shade conditions or by Cerrado phytophysiognomy (typical cerrado or rupestrian field). We expected to find greater structural complexity, leaf toughness and more inflorescences in sun plants; shaded plants were expected to exhibit a greater degree of fluctuating asymmetry (an index of plant stress), reduced leaf toughness and greater herbivory. As for phytophysiognomies, we expected to find higher levels of leaf toughness and reduced structural complexity in plants from the rupestrian field. We sampled plants in the sun and shade from both phytophysiognomies. Leaf area, toughness, herbivory and fluctuating asymmetry, were influenced more by sun/shade conditions than phytophysiognomy; leaf toughness was the only variable to show greater values in conditions of sun. Our results indicate that exposure to sunlight is not a requirement for increased plant development, but plants in shade are experiencing stress, as shown by increased fluctuating asymmetry; increased leaf area, which is a strategy to compensate for lower light exposure for plants and higher herbivory, which depicts lower toughness.