Tag Archives: edible plants

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”.

chondrus_crispus

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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References:

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: Indian shot

ResearchBlogging.orgby Piter Kehoma Boll

Today’s Friday Fellow may not seem to be such an astonishing plant, but it has its peculiarities, some of them quite interesting.

Commonly known as Indian shot, African arrowroot, purple arrowroot, and many other names, it was called Canna indica by Linnaeus in his work Species Plantarum. In fact, Canna indica is the first plant named in the book, so it could be seen as the first life form to receive a valid binomial name.

canna_indica

A small-flowered, possibly wild variety of Indian shot. Photo by flickr user peganum.*

Despite being called Indian shot or African arrowroot, this species is actually native from the Americas, especially South America, although it may be found as far north as the southern United States. It is widely cultivated as an ornamental plant and several varieties exist. It is also naturalized in many parts of Europe, Africa, Southeast Asia, and many Pacific islands.

The subterranean rhizomes of the Indian shot are edible and were a food crop cultivated by the original inhabitants of the Americas, although is much less used nowadays. The rhizomes may be eaten raw or baked or cooked. The seeds, which are small, globular and black, are very hard and dense and can even be used as bullets, hence the name Indian shot.

canna_indica_2

Seeds and flowers of Canna indica. Photo by Wikimedia user B.navez.*

The Indian shot is sometimes used to remove nutrients from wastewaters, being cultivated in constructed wetlands where the wastewaters are kept for purification. There are also  some studies pointing to its use as an inhibitor of the activity of the protein reverse transcriptase of  HIV.

Isn’t it a nice fellow, after all?

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References:

Cui, L., Ouyang, Y., Lou, Q., Yang, F., Chen, Y., Zhu, W., & Luo, S. (2010). Removal of nutrients from wastewater with Canna indica L. under different vertical-flow constructed wetland conditions Ecological Engineering, 36 (8), 1083-1088 DOI: 10.1016/j.ecoleng.2010.04.026

Wikipedia. Canna indica. Availabe at <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canna_indica&gt;. Access on December 2, 2016.

Woradulayapinij, W., Soonthornchareonnon, N., & Wiwat, C. (2005). In vitro HIV type 1 reverse transcriptase inhibitory activities of Thai medicinal plants and Canna indica L. rhizomes Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 101 (1-3), 84-89 DOI: 10.1016/j.jep.2005.03.030

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

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Filed under Botany, Friday Fellow