The chemical composition of 24 plant species which showed a three-fold range in potential growth rate was investigated. The carbon content of whole plants was lower for fast-growing species than for slow-growing ones. Fast-growing species accumulated more organic N-compounds, organic acids and minerals, whereas slow-growing species accumulated more (hemi)cellulose, insoluble sugars and lignin. No correlations with relative growth rate were found for soluble phenolics, soluble sugars and lipids. The costs to construct 1 g of plant biomass were rather similar for fast- and slow-growing species, both when expressed as C needed for C-skeletons, as glucose to provide ATP and NAD(P)H, and as total glucose costs. Therefore, we conclude that, despite the differences in chemical composition between fast- and slow-growing species, variation in the costs of synthesis of whole plant biomass cannot explain interspecific variation in relative growth rate of herbaceous species.