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Algae are very primitive plants. Some algae are microscopic (planktonic algae), others are thin and stringy or hair-like (filamentous algae), while still others are large and resemble higher plants but without true roots (muskgrass/chara).

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Filamentous Algae

Spirogyra; Cladophora

Also known as “pond scum” or “moss,” this type of algae can form dense, hair-like mats on the water’s surface. If left untreated, the mats can cover the entire surface of the pond. There are many species of filamentous algae and often more than one species will be present at the same time in the pond.

Also known as: Scum; water net; frog spittle; moss


Chara spp.

Muskgrass is often mistaken for a vascular plant, but is actually a form of algae. It grows most commonly in shallow water where the nutrient levels are high. Its rough texture and strong, musty odor, almost garlic-like, easily distinguishes it when pulled from the water.

Also known as: Stonewort; Skunkweed; Sandgrass; Chara

Pithophora Algae

Pithophora spp.

Pithophora belongs to the family of filamentous green algae. It may be found growing on the bottom or in dense mats on the surface of ponds. This algae is often described as resembling a tangled mass of cotton or wool-like growth which is very course to the touch. It may range in color from lime green to a dark greenish brown. The surface mats generally form in warmer weather when gas bubbles, produced by the plant, are trapped within the dense algal growth, causing them to become buoyant. Disturbance of these mats by high wind or heavy rain events may cause them to temporarily sink to the bottom. This often gives a false impression that the growth has "disappeared", only to have it return to the surface within several days.

Planktonic Algae

Chlamydomonas, Chlorella, Euglena, Closterium, Anacystis spp.

Also known as “blue-green” algae, this type of algae is actually millions of microscopic plants that give the pond a “pea-soup” appearance. If left untreated, natural die-off in the fall may cause a fish kill.

Also known as: Blue-green algae; pea soup; scum; waterbloom, microscopic algae