Variations in the water relations and stomatal response of Quercus ilex were analysed under field conditions by comparing trees at two locations in a Mediterranean environment during two consecutive summers (1993 and 1994). We used the heat-pulse velocity technique to estimate transpirational water use of trees during a 5 month period from June to November 1994. At the end of sap flow measurements, the trees were harvested, and the foliage and sapwood area measured. A distinct environmental gradient exists between the two sites with higher atmospheric CO2 concentrations in the proximity of a natural CO2 spring. Trees at the spring site have been growing for generations in elevated atmospheric CO2 concentrations. At both sites, maximum leaf conductance was related to predawn shoot water potential. The effects of water deficits on water relations and whole-plant transpiration during the summer drought were severe. Leaf conductance and water potential recovered after major rainfall in September to predrought values. Sap flow, leaf conductance and predawn water potential decreased in parallel with increases in hydraulic resistance, reaching a minimum in mid-summer. These relationships are in agreement with the hypothesis of the stomatal control of transpiration to prevent desiccation damage but also to avoid ‘runaway embolism’. Trees at the CO2 spring underwent less reduction in hydraulic resistance for a given value of predawn water potential. The decrease in leaf conductance caused by elevated CO2 was limited and tended to be less at high than at low atmospheric vapour pressure deficit. Mean (and diurnal) sap flux were consistently higher in the control site trees than in the CO2 spring trees. The degree of reduction in water use between the two sites varied among the summer periods. The control site trees had consistently higher sap flow at corresponding values of either sapwood cross-sectional area or foliage area. Larger trees displayed smaller differences than smaller trees, between the control and the CO2 spring trees. A strong association between foliage area and sapwood cross-sectional area was found in both the control and the CO2 spring trees, the latter supporting a smaller foliage area at the corresponding sapwood stem cross-sectional area. The specific leaf area (SLA) of the foliage was not influenced by site. The results are discussed in terms of the effects of elevated CO2 on plant water use at the organ and whole-tree scale.