We examined the UV absorption spectra and the epidermal-transmittance spectra (280–350 nm) of foliage from 42 plant species. Sun foliage was sampled from naturally growing individuals of seven species in each of six life forms comprising two evergreen groups (gymnosperms and angiosperms) and four deciduous angiosperm groups (trees, shrubs and vines, herbaceous dicotyledons and grasses). There were large differences in absorption spectra of whole-leaf extracts among species. While absorbance declined with increasing wavelength in most woody species, there was a trough in absorbance around 300 nm in many herbaceous species. Absorption spectra were negatively correlated with epidermal-transmittance spectra in 31 of the 42 species. Relationships between absorbance and transmittance did not follow the theoretical exponential function. Species rankings of UV-screening effectiveness were similar when we assessed it by using epidermal transmittance at single wavelengths (300 or 320 nm) or different UV-action spectra to weight epidermal-transmittance spectra and estimate the levels of biologically effective UV reaching the mesophyll. Thus, differences in absolute epidermal transmittance among species appeared to overshadow spectral differences. Nevertheless, the differences we found in the internal UV spectral regime in foliage suggest that whole-plant action spectra will differ among species. While species rankings of UV-screening effectiveness were similar when different action spectra were used, the absolute amounts of biologically effective UV reaching the mesophyll of species varied considerably when different action spectra were used.