Thermal acclimation of photosynthesis and respiration can enable plants to maintain near constant rates of net CO2 exchange, despite experiencing sustained changes in daily average temperature. In this study, we investigated whether the degree of acclimation of photosynthesis and respiration of mature leaves differs among three congeneric Plantago species from contrasting habitats [two fast-growing lowland species (Plantago major and P. lanceolata), and one slow-growing alpine species (P. euryphylla)]. In addition to investigating some mechanisms underpinning variability in photosynthetic acclimation, we also determined whether leaf respiration in the light acclimates to the same extent as leaf respiration in darkness, and whether acclimation reestablishes the balance between leaf respiration and photosynthesis. Three growth temperatures were provided: constant 13, 20, or 27°C. Measurements were made at five temperatures (6–34°C). Little acclimation of photosynthesis and leaf respiration to growth temperature was exhibited by P. euryphylla. Moreover, leaf masses per area (LMA) were similar in 13°C-grown and 20°C-grown plants of the alpine species. In contrast, growth at 13°C increased LMA in the two lowland species; this was associated with increased photosynthetic capacity and rates of leaf respiration (both in darkness and in the light). Alleviation of triose phosphate limitation and increased capacity of electron transport capacity relative to carboxylation were also observed. Such changes demonstrate that the lowland species cold-acclimated. Light reduced the short-term temperature dependence (i.e. Q10) of leaf respiration in all three species, irrespective of growth temperature. Collectively, our results highlight the tight coupling that exists between thermal acclimation of photosynthetic and leaf respiratory metabolism (both in darkness and in the light) in Plantago. If widespread among contrasting species, such coupling may enable modellers to assume levels of acclimation in one parameter (e.g. leaf respiration) where details are only known for the other (e.g. photosynthesis).