The effects of drought on the free amino acid pools in 21- to 23-week-old seedlings of black spruce (Picea mariana (Mill.) Britt.), white spruce (Picea glauca (Moench.) Voss) and jack pine (Pinus banksiana Lamb.) were followed during soil drying. Although water and pressure potentials were sensitive to water deficits, large changes in osmotic potential were not recorded until after the development of severe drought. Total soluble amino nitrogen in the shoots and roots of the three species rose as turgor declined, with peak concentrations attained late in the drought period when the pressure potentials of the shoots approached zero. All white spruce seedlings were alive at zero turgor and showed large decrements in osmotic potential, but concentrations of free amino nitrogen in the roots and shoots showed only modest increases, reaching 125 to 150% of their control values. In contrast, large numbers of black spruce and jack pine were dead or severely damaged at zero turgor, and only small changes in osmotic potential were detected during soil drying. Nevertheless, concentrations of soluble amino nitrogen in both species reached 150 to 200% of control values a few days before the seedlings died. Alanine, arginine, aspartic acid/asparagine, glutamic acid/glutamine, glycine, hydroxyproline and proline were the major components of the free amino acid pools under both water-stressed and non-stressed conditions, with the largest and most consistent increases observed in the roots of all three conifers. Although proline was an important and dynamic component of the free pools, absolute concentrations were commony equalled or exceeded by other free amino acids in the roots and shoots and nearly always exceeded by the concentration of aspartic acid/asparagine in both tissues. Differences in drought resistance among the three conifers were not reflected by unique patterns of amino acid accumulation or by large differences in absolute concentrations of the free amino acid pools.