We measured seasonal and canopy-level gas exchange in two stands of jack pine (Pinus banksiana Lamb.) and one stand of black spruce (Picea mariana (Mill.) B.S.P.) on relatively clear days from late May until mid-September 1994. Field measurements were made with a portable infrared gas analyzer, and laboratory measurements included photosynthetic oxygen evolution and needle chemical composition. Seasonally averaged light-saturated assimilation rates in the field were 4.0 micro mol m(-2) s(-1) in jack pine and 2.7 micro mol m(-2) s(-1) in black spruce. Rates of assimilation and transpiration were highest in midsummer. The seasonal pattern was especially pronounced for black spruce, probably because cold soil temperatures limited early season gas exchange rates in this species. Among stands, instantaneous water-use efficiency was highest in a young jack pine stand early in the season and higher in the upper canopy foliage than in the lower canopy foliage at all sites at the end of the season. Needles of young jack pine exhibited higher photosynthetic capacity, dark respiration and needle N concentrations than needles of trees at the old site. In both species, slight acclimation to shading was manifested by reductions in photosynthetic capacity in the lower canopy foliage. In both species, first-year needles had greater photosynthetic capacity than older needles but in situ rates of CO(2) assimilation in the field showed little difference among needle age classes. In both species, there was a strong correlation between assimilation and stomatal conductance, indicating that assimilation was highly stomatal limited and that environmental factors that alter conductance (e.g., VPD) have a strong influence on CO(2) and water fluxes, especially after early season thawing concludes.