The reflectance spectra of dried and ground plant foliage are examined for changes directly due to increasing nitrogen concentration. A broadening of the 2.1-??m absorption feature is observed as nitrogen concentration increases. The broadening is shown to arise from two absorptions at 2.054 ??m and 2.172 ??m. The wavelength positions of these absorptions coincide with the absorption characteristics of the nitrogen-containing amide bonds in proteins. The observed presence of these absorption features in the reflectance spectra of dried foliage is suggested to form a physical basis for high correlations established by stepwise multiple linear regression techniques between the reflectance of dry plant samples and their nitrogen concentration. The consistent change in the 2.1-??m absorption feature as nitrogen increases and the offset position of protein absorptions compared to those of other plant components together indicate that a generally applicable algorithm may be developed for spectroscopic estimates of nitrogen concentration from the reflectance spectra of dried plant foliage samples. ?? 2001 Published by Elsevier Science Ireland Ltd.