To understand the physiological response under salt stress, photosynthesis, PSII efficiency, contents of ions and free amino acids in leaves of Caragana korshinskii Kom (Caragana) exposed to three levels of salinity were investigated. Results showed that the decrease in photosynthesis of Caragana with salt stress was largely dependent on stomatal closure during the experimental period. In the early period of stress, due to the dissipation of excess excitation energy which occurred by the increase in nonphotochemical quenching, photodamage was avoided and maximum efficiency of PSII was not affected. However, with increased salt stress, the photoprotective mechanism was not sufficient to avoid oxidative damage. Thus, damage to PSII and its resulting non-stomatal inhibition of photosynthesis may occur. At 18 days with 300 mM NaCl treatment, a non-stomatal factor was responsible for the inhibition of photosynthesis. Accumulation of Na⁺ and K⁺ in leaves indicated no competition between Na⁺ and K⁺ absorption, which suggests the potential for a unique pathway of Na⁺ absorption in Caragana. There was a critical salinity level for the accumulation of free amino acids in salt-treated leaves of Caragana, i.e., free amino acids accumulated slowly below critical level, but rapidly above the critical level. In addition, proline was the most abundant among all individual free amino acids.