My interest in marine algae or seaweeds has always been primarily scientific. The diversity of forms, the complex life cycles, and their environmental importance has great appeal to me. Yet I would be remiss if I didnít say that I find them as attractive and beautiful as others feel about orchids, roses, or lilies. I have prepared hundreds of pressed specimens for use in my classes and studies. Some species are easier to press than others and can even be used in a decorative display. Chenille weed (Dasya pedicellata) is one of the prettiest red algae species. There are many fine, tiny hairs along the branches which can be seen with a hand lens. It is very delicate and gives a feathery appearance when under water. Another red alga that catches the eye is Grinnellís pink leaf (Grinnellia americana). The name describes it perfectly. It looks like a thin pink leaf. Some of the blades have spots on them which are reproductive spores. Another common alga that is interesting because of its appearance is coral weed (Corallina officinalis). This small, jointed red alga seems to be encased in a hard, white coating of lime or calcium carbonate. They are somewhat purplish when alive and all white when dead. My favorite group of marine algae is the Phaeophyta, or brown algae. The range in sizes and forms is staggering. A strangely shaped, puffy and round seaweed is the sea potato (Leathesia difformis). It is three to five inches in size and is epiphytic, growing on Irish moss (Chondrus crispus) and eel grass (Zostera marina). In the winter one can find the sausage alga (Scytosiphon lomentaria) which gets its name from its peculiar shape. This brown alga consists of periodic indentations which look like a group of sausages. One of the most unusual and interesting seaweeds in New England is the sea colander (Agarum cribosum). This large, conspicuous brown alga consists of a fan-shaped blade up to a foot wide that is riddled with holes. These perforations are due to its growth habit and the effects of waves. Finally, there is one species not found on Cape Cod that I find very interesting. The mermaidís fan or the Peacock alga (Padina spp.) is found growing in shallow tropical waters. Looking like a set of overlapping fans, this is the only brown alga that can calcify. The blade consists of beautiful concentric rings and wavy edges that sometimes have a bluish tinge to them. Iíve seen them growing in large groups or clumps, setting them apart from other species. I remember collecting them in south Florida and appreciating their unique shape and structure. The world of marine algae is endlessly fascinating for many scientific reasons, but we cannot overlook the fact that they are also among the most aesthetically pleasing marine inhabitants when seen in their natural habitats.
Copyright Gil Newton 2009 Thanks to Chris Dumas for logo image.