Most plants engage in symbioses with mycorrhizal fungi in soils and net consequences for plants vary widely from mutualism to parasitism. However, we lack a synthetic understanding of the evolutionary and ecological forces driving such variation for this or any other nutritional symbiosis. We used meta-analysis across 646 combinations of plants and fungi to show that evolutionary history explains substantially more variation in plant responses to mycorrhizal fungi than the ecological factors included in this study, such as nutrient fertilization and additional microbes. Evolutionary history also has a different influence on outcomes of ectomycorrhizal versus arbuscular mycorrhizal symbioses; the former are best explained by the multiple evolutionary origins of ectomycorrhizal lifestyle in plants, while the latter are best explained by recent diversification in plants; both are also explained by evolution of specificity between plants and fungi. These results provide the foundation for a synthetic framework to predict the outcomes of nutritional mutualisms.