Kelp grows in underwater "forests" (kelp forests) in shallow oceans, and is thought to have appeared in Miocene, 23 to 5 million years ago. The organisms require nutrient-rich water with temperatures between 6 and 14 °C (43 and 57 °F). They are known for their high growth rate — the genera Macrocystis and Nereocystis can grow as fast as half a metre a day, ultimately reaching 30 to 80 metres (100 to 260 ft).
Through the 19th century, the word "kelp" was closely associated with seaweeds that could be burned to obtain soda ash (primarily sodium carbonate). The seaweeds used included species from both the orders Laminariales and Fucales. The word "kelp" was also used directly to refer to these processed ashes.
Algae (// or //; singular alga //, Latin for "seaweed") are a very large and diverse group of simple, typically autotrophic organisms, ranging from unicellular to multicellular forms, such as the giant kelps that grow to 65 meters in length. Most are photosynthetic like plants, and "simple" because they lack the many distinct cell and organ types found in land plants. The largest and most complex marine forms are called seaweeds.