Compared with the coast of Great Britain there were relatively few seaweeds on the beaches I visited on the Queensland coast. However, the red seaweed illustrated here was one of the most unusual in appearance. I found it washed up on the sandy beach at Cape Tribulation. It resembled a mass of molluscan or fish eggs – a bit like glistening caviar.
I photographed it from every angle and concluded from the way the swollen ‘leaves’ or ‘eggs’ were attached to branching stems that it was indeed a type of marine alga. It wasn’t till I obtained a copy of the book Seaweeds of Queensland – A Naturalist’s Guide (by A. B. Cribb of the Queensland Naturalists’ Club: Handbook No. 2, 1996, ISBN 0 9595607 1 8) that I could verify its identification. In fact, it is the same species that is featured on the front cover of the book – Botryocladia leptopoda (J. Agardh) Kylin.
The specimen in my own photographs has been affected by the hot sun and most of the ‘leaves’ have dimples in them where they have begun to shrivel out of water. Apparently, the common name is Grape Weed and to quote from the above book,
the densely placed vesicles clothing the branches make this one of the most beautiful red algae in Queensland. Large specimens may reach 40 cm in length. The generic name is derived from the Greek botrys – bunch of grapes, and clados – branch.
Its habitat is mainly in the sub-tidal region in sheltered and semi-exposed areas but also occasionally in shaded pools. Intriguingly, this lovely seaweed is thought to contain chemicals with important medicinal properties. Research is being conducted into these properties in connection with the treatment of lymphatic filarial parasites.
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