In four species of salt-tolerant eucalypts (Eucalyptus raveretiana, E. spathulata, E. sargentii and E. loxophleba), we found substantial concentrations of quercitol - a cyclitol known for its accumulation in seeds of Quercus. Quercitol was absent in old foliage of E. globulus, a species noted for greater susceptibility to salinity, and also absent in the moderately tolerant E. camaldulensis, but, relative to other species, both had higher foliar concentrations of inositol. Simple sugars and cyclitols accumulated to osmotically significant concentrations in all species. The osmotic potential of expressed sap was always less than that of the external 'soil' solution and increasing salinity produced predictable reductions in growth and increases in ion concentrations in foliage of saplings of four eucalypt species. The more salt-tolerant species, E. spathulata, E. loxophleba and E. sargentii, were able to maintain well-regulated leaf Na+ concentrations even at 300 mol m(-3) NaCl. These more salt-tolerant species also showed an apparent increase in net selectivity for K+ over Na+ as salinity increased, irrespective of the Na+ : Ca2+ ratio of the external medium (range 25:1 to 75:1; Ca2+ always >= 4.0 mol m(-3)). By contrast, E. globulus was unable to exclude Na+ when exposed to higher NaCl concentrations (e.g. 200 and 300 mol m(-3)). Carbon isotope signatures of foliage reflected imposed salinity but were not strongly enough correlated with growth to support previous suggestions that isotope discrimination be a means of evaluating salt tolerance. On the other hand, patterns of sugar and cyclitol accumulation should be further explored in eucalypts as traits contributing to salt tolerance, and with potential use as markers in breeding programmes.