Respiratory processes and growth rates of alpine and lowland species of three genera (Ranunculus, Plantago and Luzula) were compared. Relative growth rates were determined for the first 14 weeks of growth at two temperatures (7-10°C and 12-15°C). Generally, the relative growth rates of the alpine species were lower than those of their lowland relatives. Whole-plant respiration rates were measured and leaf slices from each species were used for a detailed analysis of respiratory pathways. Major differences were found between genera, particularly in their alternative oxidase activity, but respiratory patterns (both whole-plant respiration rates and the relative rates of cytochrome and alternative pathways in leaf slices) were maintained within a given genus, independent of the environmental or geographical origin of each species from that genus. The lack of correlation between growth rates and respiration rates suggests that the alpine plants used their respiratory products less efficiently than did the lowland species.