Sea Belt is a very common British seaweed. It is also known as the Poor Man’s Weatherglass because, if you hang it up crisp and dry, it will go limp in damp weather and forecast the rain. Its Latin name is Laminaria saccharina (Linnaeus) Lamouroux. This seaweed has the most wonderful glossy, crinkled, wrinkled, folded, and wavy flat fronds. The texture is mostly puckered like the fabric called seer-sucker. I have previously described this species in more detail in Kelps at Kimmeridge Bay and Three brown seaweeds from Studland Bay in spring.
I recently bought an old book called A Popular History of British Seaweeds -comprising their structure, fructification, specific characters, arrangement, and general distribution with notices of some of the Fresh-Water Algae. It was written by the Rev. D. Landsborough, A.L.S. and published in London in 1857.
Landsborough’s book is a total delight to read and a mine of interesting information – although some facts are now out of date. It is illustrated throughout with beautiful hand-tinted plates on which the previous owner has most carefully labelled each seaweed specimen in neat pencilled handwriting. As a clergyman, the writer was keen to remind the reader that everything he described was a wonder of nature for which the Almighty must be thanked.
I thought you might be interested to read an excerpt from the Reverend gentleman’s account of Laminaria saccharina.
The full-grown plants are not only beautifully waved at the margin like the young plants, but they are frequently bullated and rugose, and thickened at the centre. The substance varies from cartilaginous to leathery. The colour is olive-brown, tinged with yellow. It is well deserving of the name saccharine, for, as I mentioned before, it has been proved, by my friend Dr. Stenhouse, to be rich in mannite, which is nearly as sweet as sugar. With all this however to sweeten it, it is not relished as food; indeed the Norwegians, we are told, esteem it so lightly that they call it Toll-tare, implying that it is fit food for the Fiend. But He who made all things very good, made it for good purposes. It is not despised by the farmer, who finds that it yields nourishment to his crops. It is a great favourite with some of the beautiful “minims of nature”, and the young naturalist will find that he is amply repaid for the careful examination of its fronds. Beautiful mollusks may be found gliding along them, and they are the fixed habitation of many zoophytes: Flustra membranacea covering it to a great extent with its fine, silvery, lace-like web.
“Huge Ocean shows, within his yellow strand,
A habitation marvellously planned,
For life to occupy.”
Revision of a post first published 8 March 2010
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