The Lucky Little Seaweed
This story (and many others) available at http://TheGreatStory.org/
A Great Story Parable
by Mark McMenamin
Once upon a very long time ago (430 million years ago, to be more
precise) there lived a sad little seaweed near the shore of a shallow
sea. The little seaweed loved its warm and well-lit aquatic home, but the
neighborhood was becoming more dangerous with each passing week. Big,
fast-growing seaweeds were beginning to crowd the area and shade out the
smaller, less aggressive forms. Voracious animals, who swam or crawled
within the ocean, had developed a taste for seaweed salad. These animals
were becoming more numerous every day and were even beginning to threaten
the seaweeds that lived right next to shore in the saltiest water, a zone
that used to be safe. The sad little seaweed was feeling the pinch of
One dreary morning, in the shade of a newly grown patch of aggressive
seaweed, the little seaweed met an aquatic fungus.
Excuse me, said the fungus,
but I am about to infect and eat you.
Why would you want to do that? asked the little seaweed.
Well, replied the fungus,
it is getting harder and harder to make a
living on this part of the sea floor. I normally prefer to eat dead
organic matter - like old decayed parts of seaweeds - but voracious
animals have been devouring my favorite foods before I get my share. With
their fishy fins or crabby claws, these animals move faster than I can
stretch my fungal fingers.
You know, offered the little seaweed,
I have a similar problem.
Beneath these big seaweeds, I can't find enough light to grow. They are
shading me out, leaving me weak. The future looks bleak, so you might as
well infect me and get it over with.
The fungus was happy to oblige. Fungal fingers, what scientists call
hyphae, gently probed the little seaweed, entering here and there,
beginning to suck away the living fluids, molecule by molecule. Just then
there was a major earthquake. A portion of the seafloor heaved upward,
becoming land, and the seawater drained away. The big seaweeds went
tumbling back into the ocean, carried along by the ebbing water. But the
little seaweed, anchored as it was to the fungus, was left stranded
Now what? asked the little seaweed in desperation.
No problem for me replied the fungus.
My hyphae can grow down, down
into the mud, just as easily as I can grow deeper and deeper into you. I
can grow my fungal fingers down as far as I need to. When they reach
water, I just suck it up. So you see, I am in no danger of drying out.
But you are, the fungus continued,
and I suppose I ought to get as
much out of you as I can before the sun bakes you to a crisp.
The fungus continued sucking out the living fluid from the little
seaweed, molecule by molecule. But in the bright sun, the little seaweed
was beginning to taste different. The fungus discovered that the living
fluids it was feasting upon were becoming sweeter and sweeter.
Say, you are a sweet little seaweed, said the fungus.
I would like to
taste your sweetness forever. It seems a shame to kill you.
I'm sweet because I am finally getting enough sunlight, the little
When I get enough sunlight, I can create lots of
sugar by photosynthesis.
That is a most admirable talent, observed the fungus, with a hint of
envy in its voice. Suddenly, the fungus had a bright idea:
seaweed, I have a proposal for you.
I'm listening replied the little seaweed.
The fungus continued with excitement,
You know, my hyphae can provide
nutrition as well as take it away. That is my special talent -
controlling the flow of water, nutrients, and such. The interesting thing
is that I can just as easily send you fluids as suck them out of you.
The little seaweed felt a glimmer of hope shimmer through its bright
green gelatinous skin.
Tell me more, the little seaweed begged.
Well, if I provide you with water and mineral nutrients, can you
guarantee me a continuous supply of sugar?
Oh yes! replied the little seaweed.
In this bright sunlight I can
produce much more sugar than I could possibly use all by myself. I am
afraid of drying out, however, but you appear to have already solved that
I think we have a deal, said the fungus.
Thus began the most
fruitful collaboration of all time - the coming
together of seaweed and fungus to form an entirely new kind of life on
Earth: land plants. So now, every time you admire a great oak tree, run
across a lovely green lawn, or munch on a salad, remember the little
seaweed and this tale of teamwork at the ocean's edge.