An important question with respect to plant performance in future climatic scenarios is whether the offspring of mature trees that have experienced lifelong exposure to elevated [CO2] show altered physiological responses to elevated [CO2] compared with those originating from current ambient CO2 concentrations. To investigate this question, acorns were collected from two seed sources, denoted as ‘control’ and ‘spring’, from Quercus ilex mother trees grown at ambient (36 Pa) and at about twice ambient CO2 concentrations, respectively, close to a natural CO2 spring, Laiatico, central Italy. The seedlings were raised for 8 months under controlled conditions at ambient and elevated [CO2] in a reciprocal experimental design and were used for the determination of biomass, photosynthesis and foliar carbohydrate concentrations, as well as the accumulation of structural biomass and lignin during leaf maturation. Under ambient [CO2], biomass and foliar carbon acquisition in control progeny were not significantly different from spring progeny. However, under elevated [CO2], spring seedlings showed less CO2 acclimation than control seedlings but no significant differences in non-structural carbohydrate concentrations and structural biomass per unit leaf dry mass. Developmental lignin accumulation in leaves was delayed under elevated [CO2] compared with ambient [CO2], but only in control progeny. Under elevated [CO2], whole-plant biomass, leaf area and stem diameter were significantly increased in Quercus ilex seedlings from both seed sources but with a higher stimulation of above-ground biomass in spring than in control seedlings and a higher stimulation of below-ground biomass in control seedlings. These results indicate that life history and/or progeny may determine the species-specific CO2 response and suggest that positive CO2 acclimation is possible.