Common Stonewort, Chara vulgaris
Characeae or Stonewort Family

Plants in habitat

Most algae are microscopic, either invisible to the naked eye, or visible only as scums.  The macrosopic algae (macroalgae) are best known as the seaweeds.  Wildwood has no seaweeds, of course, but it does have an alga robust enough to be seen with the naked eye and even to be mistaken for a plant.

This alga is Chara vulgaris, the common stonewort.  It is found growing in a dense bed at the base of the weeping tufa cliffs.  This is not a rare algae, but it is not common to see a stonewort growing almost on land.  They are more commonly seen at the bottoms of lakes.

The stoneworts, or Charophytes, are all macroscopic and multicellular.  Some of their cells are among the largest known, being several centimeters long.  Many of the stoneworts are found only in limestone waters like the water coming out of the cliff in Wildwood Park, and they coat themselves with precipitated crystals of calcium carbonate, visible as white flecks in the microscope picture below.   Members of the genus Chara typically smell of garlic and/or skunk, and Chara vulgaris is said to be among the smelliest.

Closeup of plants

Algae do not produce flowers or cones. The reproductive organs are visible in the microscope image at right.  The male organ, or antheridium, at lower right, is orange and globular.  The female organ, or oogonium, at uypper left, is vase-shaped and yellow-green.  Sperm from the antheridia of one plant will swim to the oogonia of other plants and fertilize the eggs within.

Some years back Radford University students stidied the microscopic algae and protozoa which live in and around Chara vulgaris in the park.


Plant under the microscope