Significant advances have been made over the past decades in capabilities to simulate diurnal and seasonal variation of leaf-level and canopy-scale photosynthesis in temperate and boreal forests. However, long-term prediction of future forest productivity in a changing climate may be more dependent on how climate and biological anomalies influence extremes in interannual to decadal variability of canopy ecosystem carbon exchanges. These exchanges can differ markedly from leaf level responses, especially owing to the prevalence of long lags in nutrient and water cycling. Until recently, multiple long-term (10+ year) high temporal frequency (daily) observations of canopy exchange were not available to reliably assess this claim. An analysis of one of the longest running North American eddy covariance flux towers reveals that single climate variables do not adequately explain carbon exchange anomalies beyond the seasonal timescale. Daily to weekly lagged anomalies of photosynthesis positively autocorrelate with daily photosynthesis. This effect suggests a negative feedback in photosynthetic response to climate extremes, such as anomalies in evapotranspiration and maximum temperature. Moisture stress in the prior season did inhibit photosynthesis, but mechanisms are difficult to assess. A complex interplay of integrated and lagged productivity and moisture-limiting factors indicate a critical role of seasonal thresholds that limit growing season length and peak productivity. These results lead toward a new conceptual framework for improving earth system models with long-term flux tower observations.