All About The Popular Pet Plant Marimo

Are you the type of person who enjoys taking care of pets? If the first thing that came into your mind after reading the word “pets” is a dog or a cat, you might want to get a little more creative than that. See, not everyone enjoys having to take care of the mess that comes with living, breathing mammals. Good thing there are other, simpler options out there. Perhaps the perfect pet for you isn’t an animal; rather, it is a plant.

What Is a Marimo Moss Ball?

Marimo moss balls are basically green moss balls, and all the rage now with terrarium and aquarium designing aficionados. Getting down to more scientific terms when it comes to algae, the Kingdom of the Marino plant is Protista. Its division is Chlorophyta, belonging to the Ulvophyceae class, under the Cladophoraceae family. Its Genus is Aegagropila, classified as the A. linnaei species. Its binomial name is the Aegagropila linnaei, though it is fondly called “Marimo” by the Japanese, which directly translates to “seaweed ball”.

There are three ways that Marimo can grow. It can sprout under rocks (epilithic), it can grow to be a filament that floats by itself which eventually sinks to the lake’s floor, or it can attach itself to other filaments and turn into a bit of an uneven sphere. Often, the algae are packed together so well that it forms balls that mimic the appearance of green velvet.

Where Is the Marimo Species Found?

The Marimo species isn’t just found anywhere, making it a rare species. It is native only to five countries; Australia, Estonia, Iceland, Scotland, and Japan; particularly in their northern or colder parts, as they do not do well in warmer temperatures. In Japan, it is mostly found in Lake Akan in Hokkaido. In Iceland, Lake Myvatn is known to be home to many of them as well. Recently, the Marimo balls that usually form in Lake Myvatn no longer do as plentifully as they did before. Where there were once major colonies, nothing exists. It is now hailed as a protected species there, with Lake Myvatn being a nature reserve.

The effort to conserve these balls is not only present in Iceland, but in Japan as well, where Marimo is considered a natural treasure. It has been considered as such since the year 1920. It’s been the center of a few metaphors that Japanese culture has attached to it; one of them being its uncanny resemblance to earth and its constant need of the sun.

Hokkaido’s indigenous people called the “Ainu” hold a festival that lasts three days just to honor these endearing balls of algae, as well as educate everyone about protecting the environment. Being part of a National Park, Lake Akan is well-conserved. A Marimo ball grows very slowly; only .2 of an inch annually, so it’s important to protect them from any potential forms of abuse.

Who Discovered It?

The earliest documentation of the Aegagropila linnaei is traced back to Lake Zell in Austria in 1823. The man who first discovered it is Anton E. Sauter. It was later classified by Friedrich T. Kützing in 1843. While the name of this kind of algae in the western word was focused on classifications and scientific specifications, Tatsuhiko Kawakami (a botanist from Japan) discovered it in Japan and thought to name it “Marimo” in 1898. As with many Japanese words, you can dissect them to get to the root of their meanings. Because of its round shape, he combined the words “mari” which is a ball that bounces and is played with by children, and “mo”, which means underwater plant.

Just because Sauter discovered it doesn’t mean he gets to dictate what other countries get to name it. In fact, it’s got different names in Japan; the Ainu call it “tokarip”, which translates to lake roller, or “torosampe” which means lake goblin.

A Little History Behind the Marimo Ball

In lake Akan during the first quarter of the 20th century, Marimo balls were often damaged due to the lake being a tourist spot (thus, thievery of these balls), also from the barraging from a hydroelectric power plant that was installed nearby. Its sudden disappearance is, in fact, the reason it was designated as a natural treasure. Marimo balls grow in the shallower parts of the lake, but because of the sudden changes in its environment due to the power plant, water levels receded, and the Marimo balls slowly disappeared.

In an effort to stop them from becoming so endangered, locals in Hokkaido launched the Marimo festival, which entails an Ainu of a senior position to take a boat to return the Marimo balls into the middle of the lake, so that they have a chance of growing more, and are harder to access.  They even have a Marimo Exhibition and Observation center, opened in 1996, to show just how important algae is to balance the ecosystem.

The Marimo Ball as A Pet

Going back to the idea of having a hassle-free pet; if you don’t want the responsibility that comes with live animals, but still want a low-maintenance ornament that is (sort of) alive? Then a Marimo ball is your best option. Now you may be wondering, after reading about how the Marimo is an endangered algae species and need to be conserved, why some people buy and/or sell them as pets. Don’t worry, all Marimo balls sold to the public are artificially made.

That’s right – “natural” Marimos are not allowed to be sold, but artificial versions are cultivated, and make wonderful pets. Japanese scientists found a way to recreate Marimo algae through reverse engineering. Not only are these sold in Japan, but all around the world. They make great decorative pieces to add to your homes, and if you take care of them properly, will last for decades, up to a hundred years. They can also grow up to 12 inches in diameter over time if properly cared for and housed.

How to Care for your Marimo Moss Ball

Although it is often called a “moss” ball, take note that it isn’t moss that this ball is made of. It is only popularly known as that and is sold with such a name. It is made from artificial algae, which will thrive on two things; fresh water, and little sunlight. Change the water in the tank of your Marimo once a week during summer (July and August particularly), or once every two weeks during the cooler month period (November to February, up to March and/or April). It’s apparently better if you prepare the water you’re going to use the day before, and let it sit still in the pale for 24 hours before adding it to the tank. It also does well in brackish water.

As for light, the less direct, the better. This goes for light bulbs as well. Try your best to replicate a cool, dark lake environment. How cool? Anything over 25 degrees Celsius is pushing it. Best to put it near the air-conditioner if you have one. Don’t forget to clean the tank (and even the Marimo ball) as it can accumulate dirt. It changes color when it is unwell.

Is My Marimo Sick?

If your Marimo starts turning any other color than green, then there is probably something wrong with it. The problem can be diagnosed by observing its color. Sometimes, the Marimo can turn brown. That usually means it is getting too much (or in some cases, too little) sunlight. You can remove these brown spots by cleaning the Marimo ball. You do this by gently picking off the dead brown parts, and putting it back in the fresh water, with a little bit of added salt to encourage growth.

Dead parts of the Marimo turn black or chip off by themselves. Perhaps its water was left unchanged for too long or picked up gunk around its environment, or some hostile algae attacked it. The good news is, it can still be salvageable. Pick off the black parts, and softly reroll/squeeze the Marimo ball. Although it may have lost a chunk of itself, it can still recover from that, and continue growing.

Is your Marimo turning white, or a much lighter shade of green? Then that is a surefire sign that it is getting too much sun. Then again, if something seems stuck to the surface of the Marimo that isn’t part of the Marimo ball, it may be the kind of algae that feeds off of the Marimo Ball. All you have to do is gently remove any foreign substance that is latched on to the algae, and change its water.

Constructing A Terrarium with Marimo Moss

The fun part about having a Marimo Ball is choosing how you want to design it the area around it. There are tons of jar shapes and terrariums you can choose from, as well as ornaments you can pick to go with your Marimo Ball. You can even add a synthetic flower with its pistil and all, for that extra touch. Pinterest has a wide range of suggestions as to how you may want to design your terrarium. From sand, twigs, pebbles, figurines, to other aquatic plants, your customization choices are endless.

However, if you aren’t the type to fuss about what goes into your terrarium, there are many shops that sell these terrariums that come with the Marimo ball inside already. You may find these ready-made terrariums in Etsy, or if you’re lucky, in your local plant store or aquarist.

Add It to Your Aquarium; Buy A Marimo Kit

For those who are still starting out on the Marimo ball craze, buying a Marimo kit is a good way to begin. These kits provide you with the tools to create the environment for your Marimo ball from scratch (bowl, Marimo ball, and sand). What’s even more interesting is that you can turn this Marimo kit into an aquarium, if your container is big enough. Be sure to pick the right kinds of fish, as some of them (like the Goldfish) prey on the Marimo, and end up destroying it. A good choice of fish species that is widely suggested to pair with your Marimo ball is the Betta fish. Shrimps are great too.

Is Your Marimo Pet Moss Ball Alive?

Though it isn’t classified as a living animal, it is still a living organism. So yes, your Marimo pet moss ball is alive. Thus, you should feel responsible enough to take care of it, and make sure it has clean water and is away from the light. They can die if they are improperly looked after.

The Benefits of Decorating With Marimo Algae

Not only do they make a great aesthetic addition to your aquarium, these balls of algae also do your fish some good. Firstly, it prevents algae. It does this because it takes up all the nutrients that algae would usually feed on, and keeps it for itself. Next, it becomes a source of oxygen for your fish after using up the extra carbon dioxide in the water. It also helps absorb all kinds of pollutants; nitrates, ammonia, etcetera, that are natural fish byproducts. It’s also durable considering the advantages it gives, and your fish will love playing around with its soft fibers.

The Meaning Behind The Marimo Ball

In Japanese culture, the Marimo Ball is associated with good luck, and love. Legend has it that a tribal chief’s daughter eloped with a man who didn’t earn her father’s approval. Her conviction to run away with him because of their intense love was marveled at and is supposedly the spiritual origin of the Marimo Ball. Ever since then, the Japanese see this as a plant of love, which can supposedly detect true love.

You could say that giving someone a Marimo Ball is much more special than picking out a bouquet. Not only does it have an ancient legend strongly related to undying love attached to it, but it’s also considered a good luck charm. Giving someone you deeply love a Marimo Ball is a great symbolism of how much you truly care for him or her. Unlike a flower that dies in a few days, the Marimo ball can last up to a century if properly cared for.