Aquatic Plant Forum banner

Marimo Balls

15212 Views 11 Replies 7 Participants Last post by  Newbie1
Does anyone have or are familiar with Marimo balls? I understand they come from a single lake in Japan and can grow quite large. Can they be propagated? The small ones look great in the tanks I have seen them in. They are actually a "good" algea! I would love to add them to one or more of my tanks. Pictures in some web pages don't do them justice. I've also seen them called "moss balls". Any info appreciated :)
1 - 12 of 12 Posts
Hi Shannon,

Here's what I've found on the subject. I'll be putting an article into the article section tomorrow.

Marimo (Cladophora aegagropila) have been designated as a special natural treasure by the Japanese government. They grow to a diameter of 25 centimeters or 10 inches at maximum.

Lake Akan is the most famous habitat for the plant in Japan. The balls, which rise to the surface in the morning and sink at night due to photosynthesis, are an unusual natural phenomenon of the lake (area: 12.7 sq km or 4.9 sq mi; circumference: 31 km or 19 mi; depth: 45 m or 148 ft).

In order to conserve this unique plant, the marimo festival is held from October 8 to the 10 in the town of Akan located on the shores of the lake (area: 12.7 sq km or 4.9 sq mi; depth: 45 m or 148 ft). On the first day lectures on the marimo are given and on the second day portable shrines are paraded and festival dances are performed. On the last day, following the performance of traditional Ainu folk dances, the festival is closed with the ceremony during which an elder Ainu chief in a canoe returns the marimo balls, one by one, to the lake.

The marimo is a spherical ball of algae of the cladophora genus, more specifically, of the species Cladophora aegagropila. This species of algae grows specifically in Lake Akan, a freshwater lake in Hokkaido, Japan. Although these balls have been observed to some degree growing in freshwater lakes and ponds in European countries and some other lakes in Japan, only in this particular lake to they grow to be a noticeable size, usually between 20-30 cm (8-12 in.), whereas in Europe they usually only reach between 1-2 inches in diameter. This is normally a filamentous species of algae that attaches itself to rocks or floats freely at the surface of the water. But the shape of Lake Akan allow this algae to take on a spherical shape. This algae is free floating, and displays unique behaviors in response to habitat changes. They will float or sink in the water in response to columns of light, and will actually roll around on the bottom of the lake.

This peculiar species of algae was first discovered in 1823 by Dr. Anton E. Sauter, an Austrian botanist, in Lake Zeller, Austria. They were discovered in Lake Akan, Japan, by Tetsuya Kawakami at the beginning of the 20th century. The marimo algae ball was declared a national treasure of Japan in 1921, and people from all over the country gathered these balls in glass jars to take home as souvenirs. However, after a hydroelectric plant was built on Lake Akan, the marimo was nearly wiped out. In the 1940's, the local people launched a campaign to protect the plant. Many people who had jars of the marimo returned them to the lake.
See less See more
Sounds very interesting. Are the small versions obtainable in the US?
Yes, you can find them at most online aquatic plant stores. However, the article I will post questions where they are coming from as the ones in Japan and Iceland a protected species. :?
I break the Marimo balls apart and use them as part of my foreground like Karen does. It's more attractive that way IMO.

Propagating this algae requires a lot of patience as it is extremely slow growing. Thomas Barr once suggested that NH4 triggers the algae to reproduce by sending out spores. This is not advisable because the algae will start growing all over the tank. You won't consider it a 'good' algae by then. :wink:

Anyway, here's an old picture of it when I was using it in its ball form. I like fuzzy things. :D

Edit: I can't attach pictures because I've exceeded my quota. May I have more please?
This stuff seems very cool. I would like to try some but I dont want it spreading all over my tank. If I put it in my planted tank and keep adding my usual fertilizers do you think it will spread, or will it be controlable?

There are about 6 species of marine ball forming algae, moderate wave action can cuase this to ocurr.

I've found some off the Keys here in the USA(Salt species) and have a few in my marine plant tank along with one of this FW species.

This is more like a plant than algae in many respects.

Tom Barr
Sir_BlackhOle said:
This stuff seems very cool. I would like to try some but I dont want it spreading all over my tank. If I put it in my planted tank and keep adding my usual fertilizers do you think it will spread, or will it be controlable?
Under normal aquarium keeping, this species won't be invasive on you. I was simply curious when I stumbled across Tom's NH4 suggestion. You have to add quite a bit, over a period of time, for the ball to reproduce via spore. Curiosity killed this cat, as I also got green water from the experiment.

The Marimo ball is quite buoyant under high light conditions, as the algae do photosynthesize. As it does that, the ball will float. So if you want it contained in a certain spot, then either confine it to lower light or find some method of anchorage (i.e. using pins and gravel to hold it down). In its ball form, this species is more of a novelty than something to aquascape with.

This is more like a plant than algae in many respects.
Tom, what's the difference between an algae and a plant? And why is Cladophora aegagropila is more plant-like?

I saw one picture of one as big as a basket ball, it was over 20 years old. Oriental aquarium is cultivating them in the thousands. Florida Aquatic Nurseries imports them from Oriental.

When they get good size, the balls are hollow in the middle. They are not to picky about water conditions, but come from cold water and mountain lakes. The ones I sell are usually golf ball size or a little bigger.
There is some issue with what is a good term for a larger macroscopic plant vs a smaller microscopic plant. Macrophyte vs microphyte is the most accpeted term when dealing with aquatic plants.

By suggesting Cladophora is a macrophyte, many would say so, I am suggesting is useful macroscopic size is more plant like than algae like since most would consider algae in ther microphytes and the plants in the macrophytes.

Chara, looks and grows very much like a plant, so does Caulerpa and others such as the kelps.

When deciding what to call it specifically, the genus/species is enough.
General terms are general terms.

The distinction between algae and the plants can be described easily.

A good question is why is Riccia called a plant and Chara/Caulerpa called and alga?

One has no roots, just a green thallus, floats around, is small, no vascular system. The other has Rhizoids, blades, stipes, runners and is rooted. Neither produce "seeds".

I know the answer but I'll let you look it up. It's a good question and worth while to look up yourself.

Tom Barr
See less See more
<geek mode>

Thank you for the elaboration Tom. Since the original posting, I have done a bit of reading that answered my question as well as those you've rasied. For anyone who's interested, it's a college-level biology textbook I checked out from a local library (does anyone ever use these facilities for something other than voting anymore?): Campbell and Reece's "Biology" (6th Edition) -- in particular, (1) Chapter 28: The Origins of Eukaryotic Diversity and (2) Chapter 29: Plant Diversity I: How Plants Colonized Land.

And although unrelated, I find Chapter 37 on "Plant Nutrition" to be quite enlightening.

</geek mode>
Hi, I grow these Marimo Cladophora balls here in the United Kingdom, I always carry a large stock please feel free to visit me
1 - 12 of 12 Posts
This is an older thread, you may not receive a response, and could be reviving an old thread. Please consider creating a new thread.