Seasonal patterns of carbon transport from (14)C-labeled foliage were examined in red spruce (Picea rubens Sarg.) branches at 1935 and 1720m elevations in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to characterize possible physiological mechanisms underlying the observed reductions in growth at high elevations. Current and 1-year-old foliage was labeled on 5- to 7-year old branches of sapling-sized trees in June, August, and October. Retention of (14)C was measured after 24 h, and allocation to other branch segments was characterized after 7 days. Total (14)C-labeled carbon assimilation was greater in current than in 1-year-old foliage throughout the growing season. This suggests that photosynthetic capacity is high in developing foliage prior to needle maturity and remains high during the first growing season. In August, (14)C retention in labeled foliage was less at the higher than at the lower elevation site, possibly reflecting increased respiratory losses that had been previously reported at the higher site. Retention of (14)C in current-year shoots as a percent of (14)C remaining after 7 days, a measure of sink strength, was high at both sites in June and remained high throughout the season in current-year shoots at the higher elevation site. The relatively high sink activity coupled with the large apportionment of biomass to current-year shoots (19.9 and 26.7% of total branch biomass at the lower and higher elevation sites, respectively) may make red spruce particularly susceptible to stresses such as winter injury that affect young foliage. In addition, the relatively greater sink activity of current-year shoots at the higher elevation site in August and October suggests that the contribution of current-year foliage to overall tree growth may be less at the higher than at the lower elevation site.