In C3 plants, serine synthesis is associated with photorespiratory glycine metabolism involving the tetrahydrofolate (THF)-dependent activities of the glycine decarboxylase complex (GDC) and serine hydroxymethyl transferase (SHMT). Alternatively, THF-dependent serine synthesis can occur via the C1-THF synthase/SHMT pathway. We used 13C nuclear magnetic resonance to examine serine biosynthesis by these two pathways in Arabidopsis thaliana (L.) Heynh. Columbia wild type. We confirmed the tight coupling of the GDC/ SHMT system and observed directly in a higher plant the flux of formate through the C1-THF synthase/SHMT system. The accumulation of 13C-enriched serine over 24 h from the GDC/SHMT activities was 4-fold greater than that from C1-THF synthase/SHMT activities. Our experiments strongly suggest that the two pathways operate independently in Arabidopsis. Plants exposed to methotrexate and sulfanilamide, powerful inhibitors of THF biosynthesis, reduced serine synthesis by both pathways. The results suggest that continuous supply of THF is essential to maintain high rates of serine metabolism. Nuclear magnetic resonance is a powerful tool for the examination of THF-mediated metabolism in its natural cellular environment.