The leaf temperatures of two poplar species (Populus tremuloides Michx. and P. fremontii Wats.) were characterized by attaching thermocouples to leaves that were either constrained to a fixed position or allowed to flutter naturally. There were no observed temperature differences between fluttering and constrained leaves in the lower canopy, but fluttering leaves at the top of the canopy were as much as 2–4°C cooler than constrained leaves. An increase in heat transfer, a decrease in light interception or both could account for these observed differences in the temperature of fluttering versus constrained leaves. Fluttering can increase the boundary-layer conductance to convective heat exchange by as much as 50 and 20% for laminar and turbulent flow, respectively. The benefit that these leaf temperature differences may provide to the carbon economy of a poplar canopy was dependent on the ambient temperature. Populus fremontii, which is frequently exposed to daytime temperatures exceeding 35°C during summer months in the central valley of California, USA, could show an increase in carbon gain as a result of lower upper canopy leaf temperatures. For aspen, the benefit would be much smaller and often negative because of much lower air temperatures. Lower leaf temperatures may also increase the water use efficiency of poplars. However, the maintenance of lower leaf temperatures may not be the primary adaptive significance of leaf flutter.