A new method for simultaneously quantifying rates of flow in xylem and phloem using the FLASH imaging capabilities of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometry was applied in this study. The method has a time resolution of up to 4 min (for the xylem) and was used to measure the velocity of flows in phloem and xylem for periods of several hours to days. For the first time, diurnal time course measurements of flow velocities and apparent volume flows in phloem and xylem in the hypocotyl of 40-d-old Ricinus communis L were obtained. Additional data on gas exchange and the chemical composition of leaves, xylem and phloem sap were used to assess the role of leaves as sinks for xylem sap and sources for phloem. The velocity in the phloem (0·250 ± 0·004 mm s−1) was constant over a full day and not notably affected by the light/dark cycle. Sucrose was loaded into the phloem and transported at night, owing to degradation of starch accumulated during the day. Concentrations of solutes in the phloem were generally less during the night than during the day but varied little within either the day or night. In contrast to the phloem, flow velocities in the xylem were about 1·6-fold higher in the light (0·401 ± 0·004 mm s−1) than in the dark (0·255 ± 0·003 mm s−1) and volume flow varied commensurately. Larger delays were observed in changes to xylem flow velocity with variation in light than in gas exchange. The relative rates of solute transport during day and night were estimated on the basis of relative flow and solute concentrations in xylem and phloem. In general, changes in relative flow rates were compensated for by changes in solute concentration during the daily light/dark cycle. However, the major solutes (K+, NO3−) varied appreciably in relative concentrations. Hence the regulation of loading into transport systems seems to be more important to the overall process of solute transport than do changes in mass flow. Due to transport behaviour, the chemical composition of leaves varied during the day only with regard to starch and soluble carbohydrates.