The species Agrostis stolonifera, Brassica napus and Trifolium repens representing different ecological strategies, were selected to study the effect of Zn contamination on Zn tolerance, uptake and accumulation patterns. Parallel tests were carried out with increasing concentrations of Zn in a semi-field lysimeter and hydroponics in the climate chamber. A significant reduction in biomass production or root length and an increase in shoot Zn concentration was observed for all species at increasing external Zn concentrations. However, shoot biomass production, Zn tolerance and Zn accumulation differed significantly among the tested species. The results in both experimental set-ups were quite similar concerning Zn tolerance and accumulation and improved the validity of the findings. The rather specific responses of the different plant species to Zn contamination interfere with the more generic approach used in risk assessment studies. Maximum amounts of Zn in shoot are not likely to cause a risk to herbivores. © 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.