Discrimination against 13C during photosynthesis is a well-characterised phenomenon. It leaves behind distinct signatures in organic matter of plants and in the atmosphere. The former is depleted in 13C, the latter is enriched during periods of preponderant photosynthetic activity of terrestrial ecosystems. The intra-annual cycle and latitudinal gradient in atmospheric 13C resulting from photosynthetic and respiratory activities of terrestrial plants have been exploited for the reconstruction of sources and sinks through deconvolution by inverse modelling. Here, we compile evidence for widespread post-photosynthetic fractionation that further modifies the isotopic signatures of individual plant organs and consequently leads to consistent differences in δ13C between plant organs. Leaves were on average 0.96‰ and 1.91‰ more depleted than roots and woody stems, respectively. This phenomenon is relevant if the isotopic signature of CO2-exchange fluxes at the ecosystem level is used for the reconstruction of individual sources and sinks. It may also modify the parameterisation of inverse modelling approaches if it leads to different isotopic signatures of organic matter with different residence times within the ecosystems and to a respiratory contribution to the average difference between the isotopic composition of plant organic matter and the atmosphere. We discuss the main hypotheses that can explain the observed inter-organ differences in δ13C. Copyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.