The majority of the Antarctic continent is covered by permanent ice and snow leaving less than 1% available for colonisation by plants. Most of this ice and snow-free land is found along the Antarctic Peninsula, its associated islands and in coastal regions around the edge of the rest of the Antarctic continent. Even in the most inhospitable ice-free habitats, such as inland mountains and nunataks, life can still be found.

The plant collections held in the British Antarctic Survey’s herbarium (international code AAS) consist of over 40,000 plant specimens from Antarctica, the sub-Antarctic Islands and surrounding continents (especially Fuegia and Patagonia). Over 2000 species are represented, comprising predominantly mosses, liverworts and lichens with smaller collections of vascular plants, macro-algae and macro-fungi.

A close up of a flower.
Fruiting moss (Bartramia patens) growing on Rothera Point, Adelaide Island

The collection and determination details of the specimens are maintained in the Antarctic Plant Database, together with those from about 12,000 field records of specimens from South Georgia which were collected and identified, but not preserved. In addition to AAS specimens the database also holds information on over 15,000 specimens collected from relevant regions that are held in some 50 herbaria worldwide. The herbarium specimens are available for loan to recognised institutions. We do however encourage anyone who would like to use the specimens to come and visit to enable use of all the supporting information and resources as well as the specimens.

For further information about the herbarium collections please contact Mari Whitelaw at the British Antarctic Survey.