Many plant processes are affected by mild water stress, with cell growth probably the most sensitive. Except for turgor-mediated processes, the physicochemical basis for the transduction of small changes in water status into alterations in metabolism remains obscure. Turgor pressure is assigned a critical role in cell growth: the physical force needed to sustain enlargement. Simple physical models relating growth to turgor are conceptually useful in examining effects of water stress but can be misleading because metabolic and regulatory responses may be marked and vary temporally. Osmotic adjustment has long been known as a means by which higher plants adapt to salinity, with much of the cell osmotica being ionic and accumulated from the medium. Though not generally recognized, osmotic adjustment also appears to be an important mechanism for adaptation to water-limiting conditions, even in mesophytic plants. In this case much of the osmotica might possibly be internally generated. Recent field data on seasonal and diurnal adjustment and vertical water-potential gradients in plant canopies are discussed relative to growth and water-potential components.