The potential contribution of intercellular light reflectance to photosynthesis was investigated by infiltrating shade leaves with mineral oil. Infiltration of leaves of Hydrophyllum canadense and Asarum canadense with mineral oil decreased adaxial leaf reflectance but increased transmittance. As a result of the large increase in transmittance, infiltration caused a decrease in absorptance of 25% and 30% at 550 and 750 nm, respectively. Thus, intercellular reflectance increased absorptance in these species by this amount. In a comparison of sun and shade leaves of Acer saccharum and Parthenocissus quinquefolia, oil infiltration decreased absorptance more in shade than in sun leaves. This difference suggests that the higher proportion of spongy mesophyll in shade leaves may increase internal light scattering and thus absorptance. The importance of the spongy mesophyll in increasing internal reflectance was also evident in comparisons of the optics of Populus leaves and in the fluorescence yield of oil-infiltrated leaves of several sun and shade species. Oil infiltration decreased the quantum yield of fluorescence (Fo) by 39–52% for shade leaves but only 21–25% for sun leaves. We conclude that the greater proportion of spongy parenchyma in shade leaves increased intercellular light scattering and thus absorptance. Direct measurements with fibre-optic light probes of the distribution of light inside leaves of Hydrophyllum canadense confirmed that oil infiltration decreased the amount of back-scattered light and that most of the light scattering for this species occurred from the middle of the palisade layer to the middle of the spongy mesophyll. We were not, however, able to assess the potential contribution of reflectance from the internal abaxial epidermis to total internal light scattering in these experiments. Using a mathematical model to compare the response of net photosynthesis (O2, flux) to incident irradiance for control leaves of H. canadense and theoretical leaves with no intercellular reflectance, we calculated that intercellular reflectance caused a 1.97-fold increase in photosynthesis at 20 μmol m−2s−1 (incident photon flux density). This enhancement of absorption and photosynthesis by inter-cellular reflectance, without additional production and maintenance of photosynthetic pigments, may maintain shade leaves above the photosynthetic light compensation point between sunflecks and maintain the light induction state during protracted periods of low diffuse light.