Terrestrializing lowland fens may be temporarily exposed to elevated surface water salinity, which may have serious consequences for nature conservation. We investigated the response of five fresh water fen plant species to elevated salinity. In a controlled greenhouse experiment, these species were exposed to salt concentrations up to 3000 mg Cl- l-1. Total biomass of the five species together was significantly reduced for salinity levels from 200 mg Cl- l-1. Four individual species showed leaf death and relative growth rate reduction, with effects at 1000 mg Cl- l-1 for Succisa pratensis, Thelypteris palustris and Viola palustris, and 3000 mg Cl- l-1 for Myosotis scorpioides. Comarum palustre showed no significant (.05 level) sensitivity. Biomass distribution was investigated as well. Root-shoot ratio of four species was affected by salinity, which in at least two cases seemed to be related to leaf death. Differences in specific leaf area as a result of salinity were only observed for C. palustre. Dry matter content increased in four species as a result of salinity. Salinity tolerance did not correspond to the environmental distributions of the species, nor could species traits be related to tolerance. Surface water salinity may affect vegetation development in terrestrializing fens at low concentrations. A reduction of plant growth would cause reduced fitness of some species and may lead to reduced root mat growth. Exposure to higher concentrations could eventually lead to a decrease of species richness.