Bird's nest stonewort (Tolypella nidifica)

Distribution data supplied by the Ocean Biodiversity Information System (OBIS). To interrogate UK data visit the NBN Atlas.Map Help



Tolypella nidifica is a delicate species of stonewort with many branches and grows up to 20 cm tall. Stoneworts are so-called as they are submerged algae that are usually encrusted with calcium. It has long and slender sterile branches and short fertile branches that are incurved to form tufted heads resembling bird's nests. It is dark brownish-green in colour and can be recognised, over similar species, by the blunt tips to its branchlets.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Tolypella nidifica is restricted to two sites in Orkney and the Outer Hebrides. Extinct populations are recorded from five sites: Norfolk, Suffolk, Orkney and Shetland. Also known from three sites in Ireland: Counties Down, Antrim and Londonderry.

Global distribution

European populations are confined to the coasts of northern Europe. Frequently in the Baltic, with scattered records from around the North Sea and northern Norway. Also recorded from Australia and New Zealand.


Grows in sandy substrata with some silt, in ditches, pools and lakes, commonly at depths above 2.5 m, although may be found down to 10 m. Thought to prefer oligotrophic (nutrient poor) waters. Often found in association with Ruppia species, seagrass (Zostera marina) beds and other brackish water stoneworts including Lamprothamnium papulosum, Chara canescens and Chara baltica. The optimum salinity for growth of Tolypella nidifica is thought to be 15 ppt.

Depth range


Identifying features

  • Dark brownish-green coloured stonewort.
  • Up to 20 cm in height.
  • Much-branched species with incurved branches forming bird's nest structures.
  • Branchelets have blunt tips.

Additional information

The sexual structures of Tolypella nidifica are over 0.5 mm in diameter, much larger than the clustered stonewort Tolypella glomerata, and unlike the latter species, the spore is reddish in colour (Bryant & Stewart, 2002).


  1. Bryant, J.A & Stewart, N.F., 2002. Order Charales. In: John, D.M., Whitton, B.A. & Brook, A.J. (Eds.) The Freshwater Algal Flora of the British Isles. An identification guide to freshwater and terrestrial algae. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  2. Guiry, M.D. & Guiry, G.M., 2008. AlgaeBase., 2008-02-21

  3. Howson, C.M. & Picton, B.E., 1997. The species directory of the marine fauna and flora of the British Isles and surrounding seas. Belfast: Ulster Museum. [Ulster Museum publication, no. 276.]

  4. Moore, J.A., 1986. Charophytes of Great Britian and Ireland. London: Botanical Society of the British Isles.

  5. Stewart, N.F. & Church, J.M., 1992. Red data books of Britain and Ireland: stoneworts. Peterborough: The Joint Nature Conservation Committee

  6. Stewart, N.F., 2004. Important Stonewort Areas. An assessment of the best areas for stoneworts in the United Kingdom. Plantlife International, Salisbury, UK.


  1. Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland, 2018. Other BSBI Scottish data up to 2012. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-09-25.

  2. NBN (National Biodiversity Network) Atlas. Available from:

  3. Norfolk Biodiversity Information Service, 2017. NBIS Records to December 2016. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-10-01.

  4. OBIS (Ocean Biodiversity Information System),  2024. Global map of species distribution using gridded data. Available from: Ocean Biogeographic Information System. Accessed: 2024-06-15

  5. Record, 2017. RECORD Vascular Plant Data. Occurrence dataset accessed via on 2018-10-02.

  6. Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2018. Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh Herbarium (E). Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-10-02.

  7. Suffolk Biodiversity Information Service., 2017. Suffolk Biodiversity Information Service (SBIS) Dataset. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-10-02.


This review can be cited as:

Barnes, M.K.S. 2008. Tolypella nidifica Bird's nest stonewort. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 15-06-2024]. Available from:

Last Updated: 25/03/2008