A circadian rhythm matched to the phase and period of the day-night cycle has measurable benefits for land plants. We assessed the contribution of circadian period to the phasing of cellular events with the light : dark cycle. We also investigated the plasticity of circadian period within the Arabidopsis circadian oscillator. We monitored the circadian oscillator in wild-type and circadian period mutants under light : dark cycles of varying total duration. We also investigated changes in oscillator dynamics during and after the transition from light : dark cycles to free running conditions. Under light : dark cycles, dawn and dusk were anticipated differently when the circadian period was not resonant with the environmental period ('T cycle'). Entrainment to T cycles differing from the free-running period caused a short-term alteration in oscillator period. The transient plasticity of period was described by existing mathematical models of the Arabidopsis circadian network. We conclude that a circadian period resonant with the period of the environment is particularly important for anticipation of dawn and the timing of nocturnal events; and there is short-term and transient plasticity of period of the Arabidopsis circadian network.