Algae exists in many forms including microscopic (planktonic), while others are thin and stringy or cotton ball texture (filamentous), and some are large and resembles higher plants but without true roots, stems, or leaves (muskgrass/chara/starry stonewort).  Algae reproduces by means of spores, cell division, and fragmentation.

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Chara is typically found growing in clear, hard water.  Lacking true stems and leaves, chara is actually a form of algae.  Its stems are hollow with leaf-like structures in a whorled pattern.  It has a gritty texture and musky odor when crushed between the fingers.Filamentous Algae forms greenish mats upon the water's surface.  This algae begins it growth on the edges or bottom of ponds/lakes and "mushrooms" to the surface.  The texture of these growths may be slimy, cottony, or course (thread-like appearance).Nitella is typically found growing in clear, hard water.  Lacking true stems and leaves, Nitella is a form of algae with hollow stems and a leaf-like structure in a whorled pattern.  Nitella is usually dark green, delicate, never encrusted with carbonates, and LACKS the unpleasant odor as with Chara
Filamentous Algae
Spirogyra, Pithophora

Nitella spp.
Planktonic algae are microscopic plants usually suspended in the upper few feet of water.  Its presence will cause water to appear pea soup green or brownish usually accumulating along windward shores or in backwater areas of a waterbody.Starry Stonewort is an invasive algae and has tiny, star-shaped, tan colored reproductive structures that are firm to the touch when compared to its soft branches.  It forms dense mats in deeper water where other aquatic plants may not live because of insufficient light.  Easily mistaken as Nitella.
Planktonic Algae
blue green algae

Starry Stonewort
Nitellopsis obtusa
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