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Green Algae (Chlorophyta)


Green algae patterns on exposed rock at low tide, Gros Morne National Park, Ontario, Canada
Altrendo Nature/ Stockbyte/ Getty Images


Green algae range from simple, one-celled organisms to complex, multi-celled organisms. They may also live in large colonies. There are both marine and freshwater green algae species, although we will focus on the marine species here. Like other algae, they are capable of photosynthesis. Unlike the red and brown algae, green algae are classified in the plant (Plante) kingdom.

How Do Green Algae Get Their Color?:

Green algae have a dark- to light-green coloration, which comes from having chlorophyll a and b, which they have in the same amounts as "higher plants." Their overall coloration is determined by the amounts of other pigmentations including beta-carotene (which is yellow) and xanthophylls (which are yellowish or brownish.) Like the higher plants, they store their food as starch.

Habitat and Distribution:

Green algae are common in areas where light is abundant, such as shallow water and tide pools. They are less common in the ocean than the brown and red algae.


  • Kingdom: Plantae
  • Phylum: Chlorophyta

The Tree of Life has a detailed discussion of classification of green algae and their relationship to plants.


According to AlgaeBase, there are 4,022 Chlorophyta species.

Examples of green algae include: sea lettuce (Ulva) and dead man's fingers (Codium sp.)

Natural and Human Uses:

  • Like other algae, green algae serves as an important food source for herbivorous marine life, such as fish, crustaceans and gastropods such as sea snails.
  • The pigment beta carotene, found in green algae, is used as a food coloring and also may have benefits as a cancer treatment.
  • Researchers announced in January 2009 that green algae may play a role in reducing global warming. As sea ice melts, iron is introduced to the ocean. This fuels the growth of algae, which absorb carbon dioxide, which could reduce the effects of global warming.


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