Dictionary > Chlorophyta


n., [ˈklo.rofʌɪta]
Definition: a phylum consisting of green algae especially of marine habitats

Chlorophyta Definition

Chlorophyta is a taxonomic group (a phylum) comprised of green algae that live in marine habitats. Some of them are found in freshwater and on land (terrestrial habitats). Some species have even become adapted to thriving in extreme environments, such as deserts, arctic regions, and hypersaline habitats, such as the Mediterranean seas.

The predominant pigment is chlorophyll (particularly, a and b). Carotenoids are also present but relatively few. Their carbohydrate food reserves are in the form of starch. They have flagella on the apical portion and they use them for movement.

Etymology: The term Chlorophyta came from Ancient Greek khlōrós, meaning “green” and‎ –phyta, meaning “plant“.

Synonyms: Prasinophyta; Chlorophycota; Chlorophytina; Chlorophyllophyceae; Isokontae; Stephanokontae


Watch this vid to see examples of Chlorophyta species under the microscope:


Chlorophyta is a taxonomic group that initially belongs to the Kingdom Plantae. In this regard, it may refer to a division within the Kingdom Plantae comprised of all green algal species. Later though, the green algae were split into two phyla: Chlorophyta (chlorophytes) and Charophyta (charophytes).

The taxonomists classify those green algal species living predominantly in marine water as chlorophytes (i.e. belonging to Chlorophyta) whereas those green algal species thriving mainly in freshwater are classified as charophytes (i.e. belonging to Charophyta). Nevertheless, the habitat of the chlorophytes is wide-ranging. Apart from marine water, they may also be found in freshwater. Others may live as well on land (e.g. Trentepohliales). Some chlorophytes have become adapted to thriving in extreme habitats, such as deserts, hypersaline environments, and arctic regions.

In the first method of taxonomic classification, Chlorophyta includes about 7,000 known species of green algae. In the second sense of taxonomic classification, the Chlorophyta consists of only about 4,300 species, whereas the others initially regarded as chlorophytes are classified as charophytes.

According to Hoek, Mann and Jahns system(1), an older taxonomic classification of algae, Chlorophyta is a division of Kingdom Plantae that included all green algae grouped into classes, Prasinophyceae, Chlorophyceae, Ulvophyceae, Cladophorophyceae, Bryopsidophyceae, Dasycladophyceae, Trentepohliophyceae, Pleurastrophyceae, Klebsormidiophyceae, Zygnematophyceae, and Charophyceae.

In newer classifications such as that of Leliaert et al.(2), the charophyte algae are separated from the chlorophytes and belong (together with the embryophytes) to Streptophyta of Viridiplantae.

It should be noted, however, that the taxonomic classification of organisms is bound to change as further studies of several species would lead to a newer system of classification, such as that in The NCBI taxonomy database. (3)

Chlorophytes vs. Charophytes

Both the chlorophytes and the charophytes are green algae. Their predominant pigments are chlorophylls a and b. They store their carbohydrate reserves as starch. Their cell walls are chiefly comprised of cellulose.

The charophytes, though, are the algal group presumed to have given rise to the higher plants, embryophytes. They are more closely related and share common features, which the chlorophytes lack. For instance, the charophytes and the embryophytes have enzymes such as class I aldolase, Cu/Zn superoxide dismutase, glycolate oxidase, and flagellar peroxidase that are absent in chlorophytes.

The charophytes use phragmoplasts during cell division.

General Characteristics

common chlorophytes
Common chlorophytes: (A) Chlamydomonas sp., (B) Volvox sp., (C) Pandorina sp., (D) Hydrodictyon, (E) Microspora sp., (F) Entoderma sp., (G) Coleochaete sp., (H) Oedogonium sp., (K) Struvea sp., and (L) Caulerpa sp.

Common characteristics of Chlorophytes:

  • The chlorophytes (Chlorophyta) make up most of the green algae.
  • Chlorophyta is a paraphyletic group (having descended from a common ancestral group but not including all the descendant groups.
  • They are greenish in color due to the abundance of chlorophyll pigments in the thylakoids.
  • Accessory pigments, such as beta-carotene and xanthophylls, are present albeit few.
  • Some species are single-celled whereas others are multicellular and macroscopic (e.g. Ulva sp.).
  • Some of them form colonies, e.g. Volvox sp. The colony consists of chlorophyte cells forming a loose aggregation.
  • They have apical flagella that are used for locomotion.
  • Reproduction may be asexual or sexual.
    • Asexual reproduction occurs by fission, fragmentation, or by zoospore formation.
    • Sexual reproduction in chlorophytes often involves the exchange of nuclei via the conjugation tubes.
      • Sexual reproduction involving two identical gametes is referred to as isogamy.
      • Oogamy, on the contrary, involves two non-identical gametes: one is small and motile whereas the other is large and non-motile.
  • There is an alternation of generation such that the gametophyte and the sporophyte phases alternate. The gametophyte phase is the haploid phase and the sporophyte phase is the diploid phase.
    • When both gametophyte and sporophyte phases involve multicellular forms of the species then it is described as diplobiontic.
    • When only the gametophyte generation is multicellular, then it is described as haplobiontic.


Below is the list of the diverse groups (taxonomic classes) belonging to the phylum Chlorophyta: (4)

  • Chlorodendrophyceae (e.g., Tetraselmis sp.)
  • Chlorophyceae (e.g., Microspora sp., Tetraspora sp., Chlorococcum sp.)
  • Chloropicophyceae  (e.g., Chloroparvula sp., Chloropicon sp.)
  • Mamiellophyceae (e.g., Micromonas sp.)
  • Nephrophyceae (e.g.,  Nephroselmis sp.)
  • Palmophyllophyceae (e.g., Palmophyllum sp., Prasinococcus sp.)
  • Pedinophyceae (e.g., Pedinomonas sp.)
  • Picocystophyceae (e.g., Picocystis sp.)
  • Pyramimonadophyceae (e.g., Pyramimonas sp.)
  • Trebouxiophyceae (e.g., Chlorella sp.)
  • Ulvophyceae (e.g., Ulva sp., Monostroma sp., Cladophora sp.)

Chlorodendrophyceae is a taxonomic class within Chlorophyta and is characterized by the cellular scales that form a fused thecal cell wall. Members of this group are unicellular, flagellated, and thecate.

Chlorophyceae is a chlorophyte group with chloroplasts that are disk-like, cup-like, or ribbon-like. Most of them have storage bodies called pyrenoids around the chloroplast.

Chloropicophyceae is a class of marine Chlorophyta that are coccus-like. Unlike Chlorophyceae, Chloropicophyceae group has members that generally have a single chloroplast and lacking in pyrenoid bodies and flagella.

The Ulvophyceae or ulvophytes are popular for their commercial use. Many edible green seaweeds belong to this group.

Evolution and Phylogeny

According to the Endosymbiotic theory, the early chlorophytes might have come from the early eukaryotes that engulfed photosynthetic prokaryotes. Through time, the prokaryote became incorporated inside the eukaryote it eventually became an organelle, which now is referred to as plastid.
This event is presumed as well to have led to the rise of other clades of autotrophs, i.e. the red algae and the glaucophytes. (5)

The chlorophytes eventually came about and in turn evolved, giving rise to most of the green algal species known today.

Cladogram showing the phylogeny of Chlorophyta.
Cladogram showing the phylogeny of the green lineage and the relationships among them, such as Chlorophyta and higher green plants, such as tracheophytes (vascular plants) and embryophytes (land plants). Image Credit: MDPI, 2019.

Biological Importance

  • The chlorophytes, because of their photosynthetic activity, made them one of the most important producers in the ecosystem. They are a major source of starch and oxygen as a byproduct of photosynthesis.
  • They serve as food for many heterotrophs.
  • Many of them form symbiotic relationships with other groups of organisms. For example, they form lichens together with certain fungi. Some ciliates, cnidarians, and mollusks form a symbiosis with the chlorophytes.
  • Not all chlorophytes, though, are exclusively photosynthetic. Some of them are heterotrophic themselves. For example, the green alga Prototheca sp. can become pathogenic, causing protothecosis (a disease) in humans and animals. (6)


Chlorophytes have been used for commercial, industrial, and medical purposes. For instance, they served as a major source of beta carotene, which apart from using as a food coloring has been shown to be effective in preventing certain cancers, such as lung cancer.

Featuring … “the Savory Green Laver”

You have probably tried eating sushi – the rice wrapped in seaweed called nori. Nori is that delicate, subtly sweet, dried, flat seaweed (also popularly called laver) that tastes sort of like bacon.

Do you know what nori is made up of? Nori is actually made up of seaweeds, which are multicellular algae! There are various types of algae that are harvested to make nori and one of them belongs to the genus Monostroma, one of the groups of chlorophytes.

In particular, Monostroma nitidum is the species grown and harvested in East Asia and South America as “Hitoegusa-nori”, which is a popular sushi wrap. Green laver (or “parade” in Korean) is a seaweed made up of chlorophytes, Monostroma and Ulva. These “sea vegetables” are rich in vitamins, minerals, and amino acids (such as methionine).

Watch this vid about edible seaweeds, including certain chlorophytes:


Take the Chlorophyta Biology Quiz!


Choose the best answer. 

1. Chlorophyta is a phylum consisting of ...

2. More evolutionary related to the land plants Embryophytes

3. Store carbohydrate reserves as starch

4. Predominant pigments are chlorophylls a and b

5. Which of the following is a chlorophyte?

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  1. Hoek, C. van den, Mann, D.G. and Jahns, H.M. (1995). Algae An Introduction to Phycology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  2. Leliaert, F., Smith, D.R., Moreau, H., Herron, M.D., Verbruggen, H., Delwiche, C.F. & De Clerck, O. (2012). “Phylogeny and molecular evolution of the green algae” (PDF). Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences 31: 1–46.
  3. The NCBI taxonomy database. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/taxonomy.
  4. Guiry, M. D. (2011). “AlgaeBase : Chlorophyta”. World-wide electronic publication, National University of Ireland, Galway. Retrieved from https://www.algaebase.org/browse/taxonomy/?id=97241&-session=abv4:AC1F03651d6c70FF99yHFE542B1A
  5. De Clerck, O., Bogaert, K. A., & Leliaert, F. (2012). “Diversity and Evolution of Algae”. Genomic Insights into the Biology of Algae. Advances in Botanical Research. 64. pp. 55–86
  6. Tartar, A., Boucias, D. G., Adams, B. J., & Becnel, J. J. (January 2002). “Phylogenetic analysis identifies the invertebrate pathogen Helicosporidium sp. as a green alga (Chlorophyta)”. International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology. 52 (Pt 1): 273–9. doi:10.1099/00207713-52-1-273.

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