This study compared the morphological and growth adjustment of saplings from three shade- tolerant canopy species (Castanopsis lamontii, Lithocarpus hancei and Fagus lucida; Fagaceae) under different light conditions in a Chinese beech forest with dense bamboo undergrowth. Only F. lucida is deciduous, and it had the most flexible morphology. In shade, F. lucida had flat or bent topshoots and horizontal branches to maximize light interception, while in conditions of high light intensity, it formed vertical topshoots to promote growth in terms of height, and upright branches to mitigate excessive sun exposure on the leaves. In contrast to F. lucida (beech), the evergreen species always had vertical topshoots regardless of light conditions. In shady conditions, the evergreens had greater annual growth rates in terms of both height and diameter than the beech, and between the evergreens, the species bearing plagiotropic branches grew faster in diameter than the species bearing orthotropic branches. The evergreen trees had thicker leaves and thicker stems compared to the beech. It was concluded that the evergreen saplings have advantages over beech saplings in terms of current growth in the forest understorey; whereas, morphological and growth flexibility in the beech aids in its persistence in the understorey.