Scirpus subterminalis Torr., a submerged angiosperm abundant in many hardwater lakes of the Great Lakes region, was investigated for various photosynthetic carbon fixation properties in relation to available inorganic carbon and levels of carbon fixing enzymes. Photosynthetic experiments where CO2 and HCO3- were supplied at various concentrations showed that Scirpus was able to utilize HCO3- at those concentrations close to natural conditions. However, when CO2 concentrations were increased above ambient, photosynthetic rates increased markedly. It was concluded that the photosynthetic potential of this plant in many natural situations may be limited by inorganic carbon uptake in the light. Phosphoenolpyruvate carboxylase (PEPcase)/ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase (RuBPcase) ratios of the leaves varied between 0.5 and 0.9 depending on substrate concentration during assay. The significance of PEP-mediated carbon fixation of Scirpus (basically a C3 plant) in the dark was investigated. Malate accumulated in the leaves during the dark period of a 24-h cycle and malate levels decreased significantly during the following light period. The accumulation was not due to transport of malate from the roots. Carbon uptake rates in the dark by the leaves of Scirpus were lower than malate accumulation rates. Therefore, part of the malate was likely derived from respired CO2. Carbon uptake rates in the light were much higher than malate turnover rates. It was estimated that carbon fixation via malate could contribute up to 12% to net photosynthetic rates. The ecological significance of this type of metabolism in submerged aquatics is discussed.