Wild Harris

Forest Kelp

This plant looks similar to the Oarweed or Tangle you see at low water, but its stalk is less flexible and has a rough surface. This allows other animals and plants to grow on its surface, as you will see when the plants are washed up after a storm. The leaf blade is constantly worn away as it grows, to be replaced by new leaf which grows from the top of the stalk. In winter the plant stops growing, and in the spring the old battered leaf is steadily pushed to the edge by new growth.

As the name suggests this plant grows in dense forests where there is a shallow rocky seabed. Kelp plants grow to a height of 2m or more, and this forest provides an important sheltered habitat for many other animals and plants. The holdfast, where the plant is attached to the rock, has many spaces beneath which provide safe havens for small animals, and the rough stalk allows other animals and plants to attach to it. Kelp plants are an important source of food for many coastal animals- not only are they grazed by urchins and blue-rayed limpets, the fragments that break off from the leaf tip are eaten by animals that filter the water for their food such as mussels.

In addition kelp forests will break the force of the waves Ð the extensive beaches on the west side of the Uists are sheltered to some extent by the kelp forest that extends a mile or more offshore, which is why the sand on these beaches is fine-grained, compared to the exposed sandy beaches in Harris which have much coarser sand.

forest kelp with epiphytes.jpgForest Kelp with Epiphytes    (Photo: Paul Tyler)

The rough stalk of forest kelp provides a good anchoring point for other plants and animals. This stalk is covered with feather stars and a dogfish egg is also attached.

kelp with red weed and hydroids.jpgForest Kelp with Red Weed and Hydroids (Photo: Sue Scott)

A multi-layered ecosystem! The stalk of this kelp plant is completely hidden by red weed. The white fur on the kelp leaf is made of colonies of tiny anuimals called hydoids. Other white animals are living on top of the red weed.

forest kelp 2.jpgForest Kelp-Forest    (Photo: Paul Tyler)

A dense forest of kelp stretches as far as the eye can see.

kelp holdfast crop.jpgForest Kelp Holdfast    (Photo: Paul Tyler)

The holdfast anchors the plant to the rock, and provides small animals with a place to hide.

by Paul Tyler