- Ecological impacts of climate change in the Pacific Northwest may hinge on acclimation to drier summers, highlighting the importance of plant physiological studies in forests. Evaluating dominant forest plant species under old-growth and managed forest conditions is similarly important as timber harvest might change microclimates and alter drought effects on plants. We examined water potential and gas exchange rates of four dominant plant species in understories of subalpine forests of the Pacific Northwest region of the United States during 2015 - a year with drought conditions representative of future climate projections. We examined two conifer species (Abies amabilis Douglas ex J. Forbes and Tsuga heterophylla (Raf.) Sarg.) and two huckleberry species (Vaccinium membranaceum Douglas ex Torr. and Vaccinium ovalifolium Sm.) in old-growth and formerly clear-cut forests at two elevations. Contrary to expectations, we found no evidence of hydraulic stress, and there were no significant differences between old-growth and clear-cut stands, consistent with an edaphic buffering effect in this volcanic landscape. Variation in stem elongation rates among years also indicated the lack of a strong drought response in 2015. Water potential, photosynthesis, and stomatal conductance varied among species and among elevations. In combination, our results help constrain expected physiological activity of understory species in subalpine forests and emphasize the importance of the edaphic context (e.g., tephra deposits) in framing expectations for the responses to drought.