Here at the RBGE we have just finished digitising our collection of British Rhodophyta (Red Algae), a total of 7850 specimens. Our collection dates from present day right back to 1777 with the Menzies Herbarium. Red algae get their colour from pigments such as Phycoerythrin and Phycocyanin that block or mask other pigments such as Chlorophyll (green) to create beautiful shades of red and pink.
They have several different forms;
Large simple fronds of colour:
Leaf like shapes:
Some even produce calcium carbonate and are most commonly seen as coral structures or crustose on the rocks, but some take on delicate articulated forms.
Then there are the few strange genera like Meiodiscus which has a triangular structure…
…and Rhodothamniella which looks like pink fur.
They are usually mounted flat on paper/card or in boxes, some however are mounted on glass or behind it! Some are still attached to sea shells, broken ceramic and large hefty rocks!
Several species can be eaten such as Dulse (Palmaria palmata), Carrageen Moss ( Chondrus crispus & Mastocarpus stellatus) and British nori or rose nori ( Porphyra nereocystis) to name the most common. Gracilaria, Gelidium and Pterocladia are all used to make agar which has important roles in many industries.
The RBGE has two large collections: The Greville herbarium from the 1820s to 1850s and the D.E.G. Irvine Collection from the 1940s to the 1980s. Other collections worth mentioning are the G.W.Traill herbarium from the 1870s to 1890s, W.W.Evans herbarium from the early 1900s and the oldest belonging to the Menzies herbarium from 1777 to the 1820s.
Our small collection of Cyanophyta (Blue-green Algae) was also digitised along with the Rhodophyta. We have approx. 250 specimens that are mostly from 1820 to 1900 and some are still beautifully blue!
Article written by Rebecca Camfield