Friday Fellow: Dead Man’s Rope

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Widespread in northern temperate waters of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, today’s Friday Fellow is a brown alga whose scientific name, Chorda filum, meaning “rope thread” is a good way to describe its appearance. Its fronds are long and unbranched, measuring about 5 mm in diameter and reaching up to 8 m in length, so that it actually looks like a long rope, which led to common names such as dead man’s rope, sea lace, cat’s gut, bootlace weed, mermaid’s tresses and mermaid’s fishing line.


A group of dead man’s ropes growing together. Credits to Biopix: JC Schou.

This alga is usually found in sheltered areas, such as lagoons, inlets, small bays, fjords and even river estuaries, being very tolerant to waters with low salinity, but avoiding open, exposed beaches. It grows attached to the substrate by a small disc, being usually attached to a very unstable substrate, such as loose pebbles or over other algae, being rarely found on stable rocks. As a result, during events in which the water becomes agitated, such as during storms, it can be easily transported to other localities.

Several species live on the fronds of the dead man’s rope, including many algae and sea snails. Other invertebrates, such as amphipods, does not seem to like it very much.

Studies have shown that the dead man’s rope is rich in antioxidants, compounds that help in reducing the aging process and decrease the risk of diseases such as cancer. Although edible, the dead mean’s rope is not widely used as a food source. Perhaps we could change that, providing it is done in a sustainable way.

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Pereira, L. (2016) Edible Seaweeds of the World, CRC Press, London, 463 pp.

South, G. R.; Burrows, E. M. (1967) Studies on marine algae of the British Isles. 5. Chorda filum (L.) StackhBritish Phycological Bulletin3(2): 379-402.

Yan, X.; Nagata, T.; Fan, X. (1998) Antioxidative activities in some common seaweedsPlant Foods for Human Nutrition 52: 253-262.


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Filed under Algae, Friday Fellow

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