Cryptogamic plants and fungi

'Cryptogams' make up around 84 % of the worlds ‘botanical' diversity: they include the fungi (including lichens), bryophytes (mosses, liverworts and hornworts), the pteridophytes (ferns and horsetails) and algae.

Cryptogam research at RBGE covers a wide range of topics, including taxonomy, evolution, ecology and conservation biology. RBGE is a world leader in cryptogam research, gathering scientific information on this diverse, fascinating and important biological group.

The microscopic structure of a diatom in the genus Sellaphora

The microscopic structure of a diatom in the genus Sellaphora. Cryptogams are often small, but incredibly beautiful
(photo: David Mann).

Exploring cryptogams often challenges our perceived wisdom, and opens up a world of immense beauty and wonder.

Did you know?

  • The largest organism in the world is a fungus - it covers an area of 8.9 km2.
  • The oldest fossil moss is circa 320 million years old.
  • Algae account for almost half the photosynthesis on the planet, producing every second breath of oxygen, and shaping the environment for life on earth.
  • Ferns were eaten by dinosaurs - they dominated the ancient world of Jurassic forests.
  • Lichens are biology's extreme survivors - they live in the driest deserts, the wettest forests and on the world's highest summits!

Find out more about RBGE research and staff interests:

Scottish biodiversity

Scotland's cryptogam diversity is internationally important. Cryptogams help to define Scotland's natural and cultural landscape: from the wild beauty of lichen-rich mountain summits, to the luxuriant moss flora in the temperate rainforest along the Scottish west-coast.

Glen Affric in north-central Scotland

Scotland's forest and montane landscapes are the habitat for an internationally important flora of lichens, bryophytes and ferns. The photo shows the splendid Glen Affric in north-central Scotland
(photo: Chris Ellis).

Scotland is home to 37 % of European lichen diversity, 45 % of European fern diversity, 58 % of European bryophyte diversity, and the majority of the UK's over 12,000 species of fungi!

RBGE research describes, explains and protects this biological heritage.

updated 3 December 2012

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Dryopteris expansa

The structure of fern fronds, such as those of Dryopteris expansa, is an exquisite example of biological pattern.

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is a charity (registration number SC007983)