Future increases in the intensity of heat waves (high heat and low water availability) are predicted to be one of the most significant impacts on organisms. Using six native grasses from Eastern Australia, we assessed their capacity to tolerate heat waves with low water availability. We were interested in understanding differential response between native grasses of differing photosynthetic pathways in terms of physiological and some molecular parameters to ecologically relevant summer heat waves that are associated with low rainfall. We used a simulation heatwave event in controlled temperature cabinets and investigated effects of the different treatments on four stress indicators: leaf senescence, leaf water content, photosynthetic efficiency and the relative expression of two heat shock proteins, Hsp70 and smHsp17.6. Leaf senescence was significantly greater under the combined stress treatment, while declines in leaf water content and photosynthetic efficiency were much larger for C3 than C4 plants, particularly under the combined stress treatment. Species showed an increase in expression of Hsp70 associated with heat treatment, rather than drought stress. In contrast Hsp17.6 was only detected in two species, responding to heat rather than drought, although species' responses were variable. Overall, the C3 species were less tolerant than C4 species. Variation in individual plants within species was evident, especially under multiple stresses, and indicates that losses of individual plants may occur during a heat wave associated with this variability in tolerance. Heat waves will impose significant stress on plant communities that would not otherwise occur when heat and drought stress are experienced singly. Using ecologically relevant heat stress is likely to yield better predictability of how native plants will cope under a hotter, drier future.