1. Sapling architecture may be an important determinant of performance traits, such as light interception and height growth, but few studies have examined the direct relationship between sapling architecture and growth properties. To study this relationship and the potential for strategic diversification, we analysed the growth properties in saplings of 16 Bornean tree species that differ in architecture. 2. Annual net production significantly differed amongst species and was positively correlated with total above-ground dry mass, total leaf area and crown area. In contrast, the net assimilation rate was weakly but negatively correlated with these architectural traits. The net assimilation rate was virtually independent of leaf size and specific leaf area. Relationships between sapling architecture and relative growth rate in mass were weak. 3. The relative growth rate in height did not significantly differ amongst species, although their total dry mass, a proxy for extension cost, varied fourfold across species for a given sapling height. This is because the proportional increase in net production with total dry mass, which is based on a larger total leaf area and larger crown area, cancelled out the higher extension cost. All architectural traits, including leaf size and specific leaf area, failed to predict height growth rate. 4. Synthesis. Relative growth rates in both mass and height were relatively independent of sapling architecture. Of the architectural traits, leaf size, specific leaf area and stem diameter were poor predictors of growth properties, even though they were considered functionally important. These results clearly reject the classic hypothesis that architectural variation leads to a trade-off between height growth and light interception, at least for the species that are under shaded conditions. However, functional variation ranging from species with high net production and low net assimilation rates (in saplings of equal height) to species with the opposite traits, which was accompanied by architectural variation in total dry mass and related size factors, may be important for the coexistence of these tree species. The possibility that small total dry mass may be advantageous in height growth under well-lit conditions should be examined in future studies.
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