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Botanical Art Worldwide: America's Flora

Irish Moss and Knotted Wrack

Chondrus crispus, Ascophyllum nodosum

Irish moss is seaweed that grows along the rocky Atlantic coastline of North America. When it is fresh it is a vivid greenish yellow, but, as it dries, it slowly changes color until it becomes a light pinkish cream.

I live south of Boston, in a seaside community where this seaweed is very plentiful and is often found along the beach after rough weather, strewn thru the carpet of shells and pebbles.

Until relatively recently, it was part of the local economy, harvested off the rocks using big wooden rakes and then left to dry out on the beach. In its dried form, companies ground it down and used it to produce carrageenan, widely used in the food industry as a vegan alternative to gelatin, to thicken and stabilize dairy products, including yogurt and ice cream. It was so important in the local Massachusetts economy that the Maritime and Mossing Museum in Scituate, MA, features its role in local history. As the carrageenan industry expanded, the demand for raw material began to strain the supply from local natural resources. The commercial propagation of Irish moss and the production of carrageenan moved. Now the introduction of a species of Eucheuma, a similar cultivator, has bolstered supply and 80% of the world supply comes from the Philippines, where it is grown on nylon lines strung between bamboo floats.

In my painting, I decided to show the color transition of the seaweed as it dries, to tell its story, but soon realized that I needed to add the knotted wrack to add a sense of scale and to ground the composition. The subtle changes of color and the smoothness of its surface made it an interesting subject and I spent many hours beachcombing at Peggoty Beach, a local Irish moss habitat, to find the exact colors I needed.

My studio was full of glass dishes full of damp odorous seaweed for many weeks.

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Read more about this artist’s work: Out of the Woods


Chondrus crispus, Ascophyllum nodosum

Irish Moss and Knotted Wrack

Watercolor on paper

7.5 x 10.75

©2014 Sarah Roche

2024 ASBA - All rights reserved

All artwork copyrighted by the artist. Copying, saving, reposting, or republishing of artwork prohibited without express permission of the artist.

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