The aim of the present study was to analyse whether offspring of mature Quercus ilex trees grown under life-long elevated pCO2 show alterations in the physiological response to elevated pCO2 in comparison with those originating from mature trees grown at current ambient pCO2. To investigate changes in C- (for changes in photosynthesis, biomass and lignin see Polle, McKee & Blaschke Plant, Cell and Environment 24, 1075–1083, 2001), N-, and S-metabolism soluble sugar, soluble non-proteinogenic nitrogen compounds (TSNN), nitrate reductase (NR), thiols, adenosine 5′-phosphosulphate (APS) reductase, and anions were analysed. For this purpose Q. ilex seedlings were grown from acorns of mother tree stands at a natural spring site (elevated pCO2) and a control site (ambient pCO2) of the Laiatico spring, Central Italy. Short-term elevated pCO2 exposure of the offspring of control oaks lead to higher sugar contents in stem tissues, to a reduced TSNN content in leaves, and basipetal stem tissues, to diminished thiol contents in all tissues analysed, and to reduced APS reductase activity in both, leaves and roots. Most of the components of C-, N- and S-metabolism including APS reductase activity which were reduced due to short-term elevated pCO2 exposure were recovered by life-long growth under elevated pCO2 in the offspring of spring oaks. Still TSNN contents in phloem exudates increased, nitrate contents in lateral roots and glutathione in leaves and phloem exudates remained reduced in these plants. The present results demonstrated that metabolic adaptations of Q. ilex mother trees to elevated pCO2 can be passed to the next generation. Short- and long-term effects on source-to-sink relation and physiological and genetic acclimation to elevated pCO2 are discussed.