Abstract Aim This article reviews the history of seaweed collections in Southeast Alaska from the early Russian explorers to contemporary efforts. It summarizes other studies of Southeast Alaskan seaweeds from a biogeographical perspective, and compares the known seaweed flora near three population centres (Ketchikan, Sitka and Juneau) with those of other regions within Alaska, and with nearby regions. Location For this article, Southeast Alaska includes all inside and outside waters of the Alexander Archipelago from Dixon Entrance (54°40′ N, 133°00′ W) to Icy Point (58°23′10″ N, 137°04′20″ W). Methods The literature on seaweeds occurring in Southeast Alaska is reviewed from a biogeographical perspective, and herbarium records for Southeast Alaska from the Alaska Seaweed Database project are used to provide an overview of the biogeography of the area. Records for the population centres of Ketchikan, Sitka and Juneau are compared with records from other areas within Alaska and with nearby regions to determine floristic similarities. Results Southeast Alaska has the most diverse seaweed flora of any region of Alaska. A list of species known to occur in Southeast Alaska is appended (in Supplementary Material) and includes their reported occurrences in three population centres (Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka). Recognition of at least three distinct biogeographical areas associated with these three centres is supported by a comparison of their floras with those of other regions in the North Pacific. A close relationship of some species with conspecifics in the north-west Atlantic is also noted. In contrast, ecological, physiological and genetic differentiation of Southeast Alaskan seaweeds from conspecifics in Washington State or even from different areas of Southeast Alaska are documented. A ShoreZone coastal habitat system, which is being implemented to inventory and map the entire shoreline of Southeast Alaska, is defining new biogeographical units called ‘bioareas’ on the basis of the distribution of canopy kelps and lower intertidal algal assemblages. Main conclusions Southeast Alaska has the most diverse seaweed flora of any region of Alaska. This is a reflection of its extensive coastline, with varied past and present environmental conditions. Different parts of Southeast Alaska show similarities to different areas outside Southeast Alaska. Despite this, much remains to be learned about the biogeography of seaweeds in Southeast Alaska, and many questions remain to be answered.