Abstract Aim Range size and niche breadth have been found to be positively related to abundance in many plant and animal groups. We tested these two relationships for the tree species flora of Central Europe; that is, for all 25 species that have their distribution centre in this region. Location Eurasia, with a focus on Central Europe. Methods We devised an abundance and niche variable classification system to transform the existing literature data into a semi-quantitative assessment of abundance and niche breadth (in terms of soil chemical and physical variables, and temperature) for each of the 25 tree species. Regression analyses between abundance, range size and niche breadth were conducted for the entire species sample and for subsets of species defined by their ecology or phylogeny. Results The relationship between abundance in the distribution centre and range size was weak for the Central European tree species. However, significant abundance–range size relationships were found for phylogenetically or ecologically more homogenous species groups (for example for trees of the order Rosales and for mid-successional tree species). Realized niche breadth was positively related to range size in the case of temperature, but not for soil-related variables. No relationship existed between niche breadth and abundance in the distribution centre. Main conclusions We hypothesize that the weak relationship between abundance and range size is primarily a consequence of substantial ecological and phylogenetic heterogeneity within this rather species-poor assemblage. The positive relationship between realized temperature niche breadth and range size emphasizes the strong influence of climatic variables on plant distribution patterns over continental or global scales.