Barleygrass (Hordeum leporinum) from Australian low-P (phosphorus) soils and commercial barley (H. vulgare) with high fertilizer requirements were grown in solution culture at 3 levels of P supply. The high-P-adapted barley produced more biomass at all levels of P supply and was more responsive to added P in terms of rate of tillering, rate of leaf production, final leaf size, and therefore total shoot weight compared to barleygrass. In both species root: shoot ratio decreased in response to improved tissue P status, even at P levels where total biomass did not respond to P supply. Removal of endosperm reserves of barley reduced total biomass to a greater extent than it altered phosphate absorption rate, thus increasing tissue P status and making plants less responsive to added P. Similarly, barleygrass had a slower growth rate but a comparable P absorption rate to that of barley. Thus barleygrass also accumulated tissue P and was unresponsive to added P. All phosphorus chemical fractions increased in response to improved tissue P status, but to differing extents (inorganic-P > nucleic acid-P > lipid-P > ester-P), suggesting that all P fractions (particularly inorganic P) serve, in part, a storage function. Both barleygrass and barley without endosperm had higher concentrations of all P fractions (particularly inorganic P) than did unaltered barley, but this was due entirely to their higher P status (due to slow growth) rather than to any major difference in P metabolism between species. We conclude that slow growth is more important than interspecific differences in P metabolism, P absorption, or efficiency of P utilization in explaining the success of barleygrass and other low-P-adapted species on infertile soils.