In the present study, important components of carbon metabolism of mature leaves of young poplar trees (Populus x canescens) were determined. Carbohydrate concentrations in leaves and xylem sap were quantified at five different times during the day and compared with photosynthetic gas exchange measurements (net assimilation, transpiration and rates of isoprene emission). Continuously measured xylem sap flow rates, with a time resolution of 15 min, were used to calculate diurnal balances of carbon metabolism of whole mature poplar leaves on different days. Loss of photosynthetically fixed carbon by isoprene emission and dark respiration amounted to 1% and 20%. The most abundant soluble carbohydrates in leaves and xylem sap were glucose, fructose and sucrose, with amounts of approx. 2 to 12 mmol m(-2) leaf area in leaves and about 0.2 to 15 mM in xylem sap. Clear diurnal patterns of carbohydrate concentration in xylem sap and leaves, however, were not observed. Calculations of the carbon transport rates in the xylem to the leaves were based on carbohydrate concentrations in xylem sap and xylem sap flow rates. This carbon delivery amounted to about 3 micromol C m(-2) s(-1) during the day and approx. 1 micromol C m(-2) s(-1) at night. The data demonstrated that between 9 and 28 % of total carbon delivered to poplar leaves during 24 h resulted from xylem transport and, hence, provide a strong indication for a significant rate of carbon cycling within young trees.