Tag Archives: edible algae

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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Friday Fellow: Irish Moss

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Growing abundantly along the North Atlantic coasts, our newest Friday Fellow is a cartilaginous red alga commonly known as Irish moss or scientifically as Chondrus crispus, which means something like “curly cartilage”.


The Irish moss usually appears as a mass of curly cartilaginous and soft seaweed with a red or purple tinge. Photo by Wikimedia user Kontos.*

Reaching about 20 cm in length, the Irish moss is attached to the substrate by a discoid base and its thallus branches dichotomously four or five times. The width of the branches may vary from about 2 to 15 mm and the color is even more variable, ranging from green or yellowish to dark red, purple, brown or even white. As with all plants, the Irish moss has a gametophyte (haploid) and a sporophyte (diploid) form. The gametophytes have a blue iridescence (as seen in the photo above), while the sporophytes show a dotted pattern (seen above as well).

The Irish moss is edible and relatively well known among the communities living where it grows. In Ireland and Scotland, it is boiled in milk and sweetened to produce a jelly-like product. The cartilaginous or jelly-like appearance of this alga and its derivatives are due to the presence of high amounts of carrageenan, a polysaccharide that is widely used in food industry as a thickening and stabilizing agent and as a vegan alternative to gelatin.

Due to its economic importance, the Irish moss is cultivated in tanks for the extraction of carrageenan and other products. Both gametophytes and sporophytes produce carrageenans of different types that can be used for different purposes.

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Chen, L. C.-M.; McLachlan, J. (1972) The life history of Chondrus crispus in culture. Canadian Journal of Botany 50(5): 1055–1060. http://doi.org/10.1139/b72-129

McCandless, E. L.; Craigie, J. S.; Walter, J. A. (1973) Carrageenans in the gametophytic and sporophytic stages of Chondrus crispus. Planta 112(3): 201–212.

Wikipedia. Chondrus crispus. Available at < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chondrus_crispus >. Access on August 1, 2017.

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Friday Fellow: Giant Kelp

by Piter Kehoma Boll

This week we’ll stay in the sea and meet on of the most impressive algae, the giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera. It is called giant for a good reason, since it can grow up to 50 m in length and form real forests in the sea. Being able to grow 60 cm in a single day, it has the fastest linear growth of any organism on Earth.

The giant kelp is a brown algae, so it is not related (at least not closely) to green or red algae, but it is a relative of the tiny diatoms that cover the ocean. It grows in cold waters along the Pacific Coast of the Americas and close to the coast of the countries near Antarctica, such as Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.


It’s a really beautiful alga, isn’t it? Photo by California Academy of Sciences.*

This amazing organism is composed by a thallus that branches at the base and then continues as a single and very long stalk from which blades develop at regular intervals on only one side. At the base of each blade, there is a gas  bladder that helps the whole organism to stand in a more or less upright position.

The huge kelp forests in the oceans are an important ecosystem and many species depend on them to survive, including other algae. Humans also use the giant kelp either as a direct food source or as a source of dietary supplements, since the alga is rich in many minerals, especially iodine and potassium, as well as several vitamines.


The kelp forests sustain a huge diversity of lifeforms in the oceans. Photo by Stef Maruch.**

In the last decades, the kelp populations are decreasing rapidly. This is most likely caused by climatic changes, as this alga cannot develop in temperatures above 21°C. The giant kelp is, thus, just one more victim of global warming. And if it goes extinct, a whole ecosystem will be gone with it.

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Foster, M. (1975). Algal succession in a Macrocystis pyrifera forest Marine Biology, 32 (4), 313-329 DOI: 10.1007/BF00388989

Wikipedia. Macrocystis pyrifera. Available at . Access on January 19, 2007.

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