Encelia farinosa is one of the most abundant and highly studied species of the Sonoran Desert, yet characteristics of its leaf development and long-term photosynthetic capacity are relatively unknown. The net CO2 uptake rate and the Rubisco activity per unit leaf area for E. farinosa in a glasshouse increased in parallel for about 18 days after leaf emergence (leaf area was then 5 cm²), after which both were constant, suggesting that Rubisco levels controlled net CO2 uptake. Instantaneous net CO2 uptake rates at noon for well-watered E. farinosa in the glasshouse at different temperatures and light levels correctly predicted differences in daily net CO2 uptake at four seasonally diverse times for transplanted plants under irrigated conditions in the field but overpredicted the daily means by 13%. After this correction, seasonally adjusted net CO2 uptake per unit leaf area multiplied by the estimated monthly leaf area predicted that 42% of the net carbon gain was incorporated into plant dry weight over a 17-month period. The ecological success of E. farinosa apparently reflects an inherently high daily net CO2 uptake and retention of a substantial fraction of its leaf carbon gain.