Alpine Botany

, Volume 128, Issue 2, pp 97–106 | Cite as

The highest vascular plants on Earth

  • Cédric DentantEmail author
Short Communication


Mountaineering, since the beginning of its history, has played an inconspicuous but key role in the collection of species samples at the highest elevations. During two historical expeditions undertaken to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1935 and 1952, mountaineers collected five species of vascular plants from both the north and south sides of the mountain, at ca. 6400 m a.s.l. Only one of these specimens was determined immediately following the expedition (Saussurea gnaphalodes), and the remaining four were not identified until quite recently. In 2000, the second specimen from the 1935 expedition was described as a new species for science (Lepidostemon everestianus), endemic to Tibet. In this paper, the remaining three specimens from the 1952 Everest expedition are reviewed and analysed, bringing the number of species sharing the title of “highest known vascular plant” from two to five. I identify one of the 1952 specimens as Arenaria bryophylla, and describe two novel taxa based on analysis of the herbarium records: Saxifraga lychnitis var. everestianus and Androsace khumbuensis. Although elevation records on their own do not inform us about the ecological conditions and physiological capacity of plants at the upper limit of their distribution, this taxonomic investigation contributes to our knowledge of the biogeography of Himalayan flora and opens the way for future field-based investigations of mechanisms limiting plant growth on the roof of the world.


Vascular plants Lepidostemon everestianus Androsace khumbuensis Mountaineering High elevation Everest Himalaya 



I would like to acknowledge the herbarium curators who provided a decisive assistance for this study: Fred Stauffer and Laurent Gauthier (Conservatory and Botanical Garden of Geneva, G); Ranee Prakash (Natural History Museum of London, BM). I would also thank Fabien Anthelme and Hannah Marx for their advice for improving the manuscript. And finally a special thanks to Sonja Wipf for her indefatigable support and to Brad Carlson for his invaluable contribution in refining the manuscript.

Author contributions

C. Dentant analysed herbarium records at the Conservatory and Botanical Garden of Geneva and the British Museum, carried out research on historical expeditions to Mount Everest and wrote the paper.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

35_2018_208_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (4.6 mb)
ESM_1 Herbarium specimen of Saussurea gnaphalodes (BM[000803807]) collected during the 1935 Everest expedition. Photo: Ranee Prakash (BM) (PDF 4675 KB)
35_2018_208_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (4.7 mb)
ESM_2 Holotype of Lepidostemon everestianus (BM[000587908]), specimen collected during the 1935 Everest expedition. Photo: Ranee Prakash (BM) (PDF 4829 KB)
35_2018_208_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (5.2 mb)
ESM_3 Herbarium specimen of Arenaria bryophylla (G[G00429530]) collected during the 1952 Everest expedition. Photo: G (PDF 5281 KB)
35_2018_208_MOESM4_ESM.pdf (5.5 mb)
ESM_4 Holotype of Saxifraga lychnitis var. everestianus (G[G00429528]), specimen collected during the 1952 Everest expedition. Photo: G (PDF 5583 KB)
35_2018_208_MOESM5_ESM.pdf (6.8 mb)
ESM_5 Holotype of Androsace khumbuensis (G[G00429529]), specimen collected during the 1952 Everest expedition. Photo: G (PDF 6951 KB)


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Copyright information

© Swiss Botanical Society 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ecrins National ParkGapFrance

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