The effects of elevated carbon dioxide (CO2) on plant litter are critical determinants of ecosystem feedback to changing atmospheric CO2 concentrations. We measured concentrations of nitrogen (N) and carbon (C) and calculated C : N ratios of green leaves of two desert perennial shrubs, and the same quality parameters plus lignin and cellulose content of leaf litter from four shrub species exposed to elevated CO2 (FACE technology; Hendrey & Kimball, 1994) for 3 years in an intact Mojave Desert ecosystem. Shrubs tested were Larrea tridentata, Lycium pallidum, Lycium andersonii and Ambrosia dumosa. We calculated resorption efficiency from green tissue and leaf litter N data and measured lignin and cellulose content in litter in the last year study. Green leaves of L. tridentata grown under elevated CO2 had significantly lower N concentrations and higher C : N ratios than shrubs grown in ambient conditions in 1999 (P < 0.05). Lycium pallidum green leaves grown under elevated CO2 had significantly lower N concentrations and higher C : N ratios than shrubs grown under ambient conditions in 2000 (P < 0.05). There was no CO2 effect on C content of either species. We found no effect of CO2 on N or C content, C : N ratios, or lignin or cellulose concentrations in leaf litter of L. tridentata, L. pallidum, L. andersonii, or A. dumosa. There was no significant effect of CO2 on estimates of shrub resorption efficiency. There was a seasonal effect on green tissue and litter tissue quality for L. tridentata, with lower tissue N content in summer than in spring or winter months. These data suggest that any productivity increases with elevated CO2 in desert ecosystems may not be limited by lower leaf litter quality and that resorption efficiency calculations are best performed on an individual leaf basis.