Ethanol extractable polyols and sugars from the dominant cryptogams of the Windmill Islands, Wilkes Land, East Antarctica, were characterized and quantified by gas liquid chromatography. Arabitol, ribitol and mannitol were the major low molecular weight carbohydrates extracted from all eight species of lichen analysed. Total extractable carbohydrate levels (20–60 mg g−1 dry weight) were comparable to those for temperate lichens. Extracts of four common bryophyte species were dominated by sucrose, glucose and fructose; little polyhydric alcohol was detected except in the liverwort Cephaloziella exiliflora which contained a substantial proportion of mannitol. Total carbohydrate levels in the bryophytes (9–60 mg g−1 dry weight) were comparable to those in lichens. The compositions of eight species of algae varied considerably. Prasiola crispa, Desmococcus vulgaris and Schizogonium murale possessed sorbitol as their main constituent and had extractable carbohydrate contents comparable to those found in bryophytes on a dry weight or chlorophyll a content basis. The one snow alga with comparable carbohydrate levels, Mesotaenium berggrenii, contained sucrose, glucose, glycerol and a number of unidentified compounds. The remaining four species (Oscillatoria sp., Chloromonas sp.1 and Chlorosarcina sp. 2 and Chlamydomonas pseudopulsatilla) did not accumulate comparable levels of sugars and polyols. Though the levels of these compounds were much lower in the Windmill Islands lichens than in maritime Antarctic species, their content with respect to water content (0.7–7 molal) was well above that at which cold acclimated plants accumulate these compounds (c. 100–500 millimolal), and which provide cryoprotection in vitro. In the case of the bryophytes and algae, however, the in vivo content was generally < 100 millimolal.