Friday Fellow: Common Stonewort

ResearchBlogging.orgby Piter Kehoma Boll

It’s always hard to introduce a less charismatic species here. Not because they are less interesting to me, but because I cannot find good information available. But I try to do my best to show all aspects of our amazing biodiversity.

Today I’m introducing another alga, one of the most complex ones, the common stonewort, scientifically known as Chara vulgaris.

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A “field” of common stoneworts in a pond. Photo by Markus Nolf.*

Found worldwide in freshwater environments, especially marshes and swamps, the common stonewort may actually be a complex of species. Its name “stonewort” comes from the fact that the plant may become encrusted in calcium carbonate, giving it a stony appearance. Growing up to 120 cm in length/height and having a central articulated stalk with several branches coming out from each node, it may look similar to a horsetail, but its structure is much simpler.

If you look closer, you’ll see that the stalk is formed by a simple mass of chained cells, but very big ones. Actually, the cells of species in the genus Chara are among the largest known plant cells. And having such large cells, stoneworts have become experts in cytoplasmic streaming, a phenomenon by which organelles and fluids flow throughout the cytoplasm guided by an interaction of myosin molecules that slide along actin molecules. And in case you didn’t know, myosin and actin are also the molecules responsible for muscular contractions in animals.

chara_vulgaris

A closer look at a stalk of the common stonewort. Photo by Kristian Peters.*

The common stonewort is very common in rice fields and serves as a substrate for nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Thus, although usually considered a weed in the fields, the presence of the common stonewort may actually help to increase the soil fertility in rice fields.

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References:

Ariosa, Y., Quesada, A., Aburto, J., Carrasco, D., Carreres, R., Leganes, F., & Fernandez Valiente, E. (2004). Epiphytic Cyanobacteria on Chara vulgaris Are the Main Contributors to N2 Fixation in Rice Fields Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 70 (9), 5391-5397 DOI: 10.1128/AEM.70.9.5391-5397.2004

Wikipedia. Charales. Available at <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charales&gt;. Access on December 15, 2016.

Wikipedia. Cytoplasmic streaming. Available at < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cytoplasmic_streaming>. Access on December 15, 2016.

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*Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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