In previous experiments systematic differences have been found in the morphology, carbon economy and chemical composition of seedlings of inherently fast- and slow-growing plant species, grown at a non-limiting nutrient supply. In the present experiment it was investigated whether these differences persist when plants are grown at suboptimal nutrient supply rates. To this end, plants of the inherently fast-growing Holcus lanatus L. and the inherently slow-growing Deschampsia flexuosa (L.) Trin. were grown in sand at two levels of nitrate supply. Growth, photosynthesis, respiration and carbon and nitrogen content were studied over a period of 4 to 7 weeks. At low N-supply, the potentially fast-growing species still grew faster than the potentially slow-growing one. Similarly, differences in leaf area ratio (leaf area:total dry weight), specific leaf area (leaf area:leaf dry weight) and leaf weight ratio (leaf dry weight:total dry weight), as observed at high N-supply persisted at low N-availability. The only growth parameter for which a substantial Species × N-supply interaction was found was the net assimilation rate (increase in dry weight per unit leaf area and time). Rates of photosynthesis, shoot respiration and root respiration, expressed per unit leaf, shoot and root weight, respectively, were lower for the plants at low N-availability and higher for the fast-growing species. Species-specific variation in the daily carbon budget was mainly due to variation in carbon fixation. Lower values at low N were largely determined by both a lower C-gain of the leaves and a higher proportion of the daily gain spent in root respiration. Interspecific variation in C-content and dry weight:fresh weight ratio were similar at low and high N-supply. Total plant organic N decreased with decreasing N-supply, without differences between species. It is concluded that most of the parameters related to growth, C-economy and chemical composition differ between species and/or are affected by N-supply, but that differences between the two species at high N-availability persist at low N-supply.