Gas exchange and chlorophyll fluorescence techniques were used to evaluate the acclimation capacity of the schlerophyll shrub Heteromeles arbutifolia M. Roem. to the multiple co-occurring summer stresses of the California chaparral. We examined the influence of water, heat and high light stresses on the carbon gain and survival of sun and shade seedlings via a factorial experiment involving a slow drying cycle applied to plants grown outdoors during the summer. The photochemical efficiency of PSII exhibited a diurnal, transient decrease (δF/Fm′) and a chronic decrease or photoinhibition (Fv/Fm) in plants exposed to full sunlight. Water stress enhanced both transient decreases of δF/Fm’and photoinhibition. Effects of decreased δF/Fm’and Fv/Fm on carbon gain were observed only in well-watered plants since in water-stressed plants they were overidden by stomatal closure. Reductions in photochemical efficiency and stomatal conductance were observed in all plants exposed to full sunlight, even in those that were well-watered. This suggested that H. arbutifolia sacrificed carbon gain for water conservation and photoprotection (both structurally via shoot architecture and physiologically via down-regulation) and that this response was triggered by a hot and dry atmosphere together with high PFD, before severe water, heat or high PFD stresses occur. We found fast adaptive adjustments of the thermal stability of PSII (diurnal changes) and a superimposed long-term acclimation (days to weeks) to high leaf temperatures. Water stress enhanced resistance of PSII to high temperatures both in the dark and over a wide range of PFD. Low PFD protected photochemical activity against inactivation by heat while high PFD exacerbated damage of PSII by heat. The greater interception of radiation by horizontally restrained leaves relative to the steep leaves of sun-acclimated plants caused photoinhibition and increased leaf temperature. When transpirational cooling was decreased by water stress, leaf temperature surpassed the limits of chloroplast thermostability. The remarkable acclimation of water-stressed plants to high leaf temperatures proved insufficient for the semi-natural environmental conditions of the experiment. Summer stresses characteristic of Mediterranean-type climates (high leaf temperatures in particular) are a potential limiting factor for seedling survival in H. arbutifolia, especially for shade seedlings lacking the crucial structural photoprotection provided by steep leaf angles.