The Aquatic Gazette

Marimo Ball

In Flora on July 4, 2011 at 01:38

The Aegagropila linnaei or Marimo ball, is one of the most unusual flora available today. It is the only flora to be spherical in shape, with no roots, rhizome or leaves, resembling a green ball of moss.

The name “Marimo” is credited to a 19th century Japanese botanist by the name of Tatsuhiko Kawakami. “Mari” can be translated to “bouncing ball” while “Mo” can be translated to “a generic term for aquatic plants”.

Although the Marimo ball can be natively found in Estonia, Iceland, Japan and Scotland, it was made popular by the Japanese. The Japanese established the Marimo ball as a national treasure in the 1920s and in recent times, launched a publicity campaign that used this unique flora as a mascot for addressing environmental concerns.

The Marimo ball is made up of a species of filamentous green algae known as Chlorophyta. This algae grows into large green balls that has a velvety feel and appearance. Because of this, Marimo balls are also known as Japanese moss balls.

In lakes where the Marimo balls are found, they move throughout the lake by wave action and it is this current that maintains the Marimo balls’ spherical shape. At the bottom of the lake, there is sometimes more than one layer of Marimo balls, the same wave action bounces these different layers about and ensure that all layers get their fill of sunlight. It is from this bouncing movement that inspired the flora’s name.

In the aquarium, the Marimo ball is not fussy about lighting levels or CO2 injection. There should however be enough nutrients provided and an aquarium temperature of not more than 28 degree Celsius.

Although the Marimo ball has been known as a hardy aquatic plant, some aquarists have not been successful in sustaining them in health over a long period of time. If the Marimo ball appears to be losing is dark and intense green colouration and seem to be turning brownish, we suggest keeping the aquarium’s temperature to a 25 to 27 degree Celsius range and to add more nutrients.

The Marimo ball should also be removed from the aquarium and given a light squeeze and wash to clear it from detritus that will hinder its photosynthesis process. Upon returning it to the aquarium, place it in resting on a different side as before to ensure that its entire surface area is routinely exposed to light.

Beneath the outer surface of a Marimo ball lies the same Chlorophyta algae, but in a dormant state. This dormant algae is filled with chloroplasts that becomes active if they are exposed. In the wild, a Marimo ball continues to grow until it reaches a diameter of about 20 to 30cm centimeters before being broken apart by wave action, forming two or more separate Marimo balls.

The Marimo ball comes at a pretty steep price because of its slow growth rate, an average of just 5mm a year in ideal conditions. Propagation can be encouraged by splitting an existing Marimo ball into multiple smaller pieces, and then placed in an aquarium with a good current with ideal conditions.

When propagated this way, some parts of the smaller, newly formed Marimo balls may be brownish in colour. Over time, these parts should turn into their trademark green as the chloroplasts activate. In less than ideal conditions, the entire newly formed Marimo balls will turn brown, easily falling apart, and accompanied by a rotting smell.

The Marimo ball makes for a good centerpiece in a small aquascape, or as an expensive carpet in a big aquascape. Its ability as an ‘instant’ flora in an aquascape, coupled with its unique appearance and non-fussy nature makes it popular among aquarists.

The popularity of the Marimo ball does not stop with the aquarist, numerous companies have taken to placing nano Marimo balls in small jars and these are marketed as a novelty. A Japanese stuffed toy character, Marimokkori, was also inspired by the Marimo ball.

In our hobby, the diversity of flora is often the true beauty of aquascapes. As such, the Marimo ball stands tall and proud, as it is a flora unlike any other. If you can find a Marimo ball in your local fish shop, we recommend that you give it a try, and experience its uniqueness for yourself.

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