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In form, the mature Acetabularia resembles the round leaves of a nasturtium, is 0.5 to 10 cm tall and has three anatomical parts: a bottom rhizoid that resembles a set of short roots; a long stalk in the middle; and a top umbrella of branches that may fuse into a cap. The single nucleus of Acetabularia is located in the rhizoid, and allows the cell to regenerate completely if its cap is removed. The caps of two Acetabularia may also be exchanged, even from two different species. In addition, if a piece of the stem is removed, with no access to the nucleus in the rhizoid, this isolated stem piece will also grow a new cap.
The name, Acetabularia, derives from the Latin word acetabulum, a broad, shallow cup used for dipping bread; the upturned cap of Acetabularia resembles such a cup. For this reason, it is also sometimes called Mermaid's Wineglass.