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seaweed,name commonly used for the multicellular marine algaealgae
[plural of Lat. alga=seaweed], a large and diverse group of primarily aquatic plantlike organisms. These organisms were previously classified as a primitive subkingdom of the plant kingdom, the thallophytes (plants that lack true roots, stems, leaves, and flowers).
..... Click the link for more information. . Simpler forms, consisting of one cell (e.g., the diatomdiatom
, unicellular organism of the kingdom Protista, characterized by a silica shell of often intricate and beautiful sculpturing. Most diatoms exist singly, although some join to form colonies.
..... Click the link for more information. ) or of a few cells, are not generally called seaweeds; these tiny plants help to make up plankton. The more highly developed types of seaweed usually have a basal disk, called a holdfast, and a frond of varying length and shape, which often resembles a plant in having stemlike and leaflike parts.
Types of Seaweed
The simplest of the seaweeds are among the cyanobacteriacyanobacteria
or blue-green algae,
photosynthetic bacteria that contain chlorophyll. For many years they were classified in the plant kingdom along with algae, but discoveries made possible by the electron microscope and new biochemical techniques have shown them to be
..... Click the link for more information. , formerly called the blue-green algae, and green algae (division ChlorophytaChlorophyta
, phylum (division) of the kingdom Protista consisting of the photosynthetic organisms commonly known as green algae. The organisms are largely aquatic or marine.
..... Click the link for more information. ), found nearest the shore in shallow waters and usually growing as threadlike filaments, irregular sheets, or branching fronds. The brown algae (division PhaeophytaPhaeophyta
, phylum (division) of the kingdom Protista consisting of those organisms commonly called brown algae. Many of the world's familiar seaweeds are members of Phaeophyta. There are approximately 1,500 species.
..... Click the link for more information. ), in which brown pigment masks the green of the chlorophyll, are the most numerous of the seaweeds of temperate and polar regions. They grow at depths of 50 to 75 ft (15–23 m). The red seaweeds (division RhodophytaRhodophyta
, phylum (division) of the kingdom Protista consisting of the photosynthetic organisms commonly known as red algae. Most of the world's seaweeds belong to this group.
..... Click the link for more information. ), many of them delicate and fernlike, are found at the greatest depths (up to 879 ft/268 m); their red pigment enables them to absorb the blue and violet light present at those depths.
Reproduction in Seaweeds
Seaweeds reproduce in a variety of ways. Lower types reproduce asexually. More advanced kinds produce motile zoospores that swim off, anchor themselves, and grow into new individuals, or they reproduce sexually by forming sex cells (gametes) that, after fusing, follow the same pattern. Sometimes pieces of a seaweed break off and form new plants; in a few species there is a cycle of asexual and sexual reproduction foreshadowing the alternation of generations characteristic of plants.
Common Species and Their Uses
The largest of the green algae, Ulva (sea lettuce), grows to a ribbon or sheet 3 ft (91 cm) long. It provides food for many sea creatures, and its broad surface releases a large amount of oxygen. Fucus, called rockweed or bladderwrack, is a tough, leathery brown alga (though it often looks olive-green) that clings to rocks and has flattened, branched fronds buoyed by air bladders at the tips.
Seaweeds, especially species of the red algae Porphyra (nori) and Chondrus, form an important part of the diet and are farmed for food in China and Japan; other species (often called laver) are eaten in the British Isles and Iceland. Commercial agaragar
, product obtained from several species of red algae, or seaweed, chiefly from the Ceylon, or Jaffna, moss (Gracilaria lichenoides) and species of Gelidium, harvested in eastern Asia and California.
..... Click the link for more information. (vegetable gelatin) is obtained from species of red algae and is the most valuable seaweed product. Irish moss or carrageen (Chondrus crispus), a red alga, is one of the few seaweeds used commercially in the United States. After being bleached in the sun the fronds contain a high proportion of gelatin, which is used for cooking, textile sizing, making cosmetics, and other purposes. In Japan it is made into a shampoo to impart gloss to the hair.
The kelps generally include the many large brown seaweeds and are among the most familiar forms found on North American coasts. Some have fronds up to 200 ft (61 m) long, e.g., the Pacific coast Nereocystis and Macrocystis, found also off the Cape of Good Hope. Common Atlantic species include Laminaria and Agarum (devil's apron). The kelps are a source of salts of iodine and potassium and, to a lesser extent, other minerals. When the seaweed is burned, the soluble mineral compounds are removed from the ashes (also called kelp) by washing. They are used chiefly as chemical reagents and for dietary deficiencies in people and in livestock. Kelp is also a commercial source of potash, fertilizer, and medicines made from its vitamin and mineral content. Kelps are especially abundant in Japan, and various foods known as kombu are made from them.
The brown algae of the genus Sargassum are called gulfweed. They inhabit warm ocean regions and are commonly found floating in large patches in the Sargasso SeaSargasso Sea
, part of the N Atlantic Ocean, lying roughly between the West Indies and the Azores and from about lat. 20°N to lat. 35°N, in the horse latitudes. The relatively still sea is the center of a great swirl of ocean currents known as the North Atlantic
..... Click the link for more information. and in the Gulf Stream. Gulfweed was observed by Columbus. Although it was formerly thought to cover the whole Sargasso Sea, making navigation impossible, it has since been found to occur only in drifts. Numerous berrylike air sacs keep the branching plant afloat. The thick masses of gulfweed provide the environment for a distinctive and specialized group of marine forms, many of which are not found elsewhere. In the 21st cent. gulfweed has spread more widely across the tropical Atlantic and into the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, and come ashore on beaches in thick mats that rot, becoming a nuisance to beachgoers and a threat to fish and sea turtle nests.