Laboratory experiments have shown a large difference in specific leaf area (SLA, leaf area: leaf mass) between species from nutrient-poor and nutrient-rich habitats, but no systematic difference in the construction costs (the amount of glucose required to construct 1 g biomass). We examined how far these patterns are congruent with those from field-grown plants. An analysis was made of the vegetation in a range of grasslands and heathlands differing in productivity. The SLA of the dominant species in 15 different habitats was determined, as well as chemical composition and construction costs of bulk samples of leaves. SLA in the field was generally lower than in the laboratory, but showed consistency in that the ranking across species remained the same. Species from highly productive habitats had higher SLA than those from sites of low productivity, although individual species sometimes deviated substantially from the general trend. Construction costs were similar for plants from different habitats. This was mainly due to the positive correlation between an expensive class of compounds (proteins) and a cheap one (minerals).