Search Field Guide
Advanced Search
MT Gov Logo
Montana Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Nitella - Nitella species

Global Rank: GNR
State Rank: SNR

Agency Status
MNPS Threat Rank:

External Links

General Description
Nitella, one of the genera of green algae, grows submerged in water. Nitella’s root-like rhizoids, which attach the plants to the muddy substrate, are colorless and well-developed (DiTomaso and Kyser et al 2013). The shoot-like central axis or stipe is ridged (Swistock & Smiles 2008) and has regularly-spaced nodes or joints. Between the nodes, the axis is solid. Whorls of slender, leaf-like branches develop from each node, some of these branches growing as long as 12 inches or more (DiTomaso and Kyser et al 2013).

Nitella species are typically deep, translucent green, and very smooth and delicate (DiTomaso and Kyser et al 2013).

Diagnostic Characteristics
The genus Chara is similar to Nitella. However, Chara often becomes encrusted with carbonates, making it rough or gritty to the touch, and giving it an unpleasant smell like garlic or skunk when crushed, whereas Nitella is very smooth and absent the unpleasant odor when crushed. Chara is also grayish-green and coarse, while Nitella tends to be a deeper green and more delicate than Chara (DiTomaso and Kyser et al 2013; Swistock & Smiles 2008). Finally, Chara usually inhabits hard waters; Nitella prefers acidic waters with soft, muddy bottoms (Swistock & Smiles 2008).

Possessing rhizoids, a central axis, and branches, Nitella gametophytes are easily confused with but only superficially resemble some aquatic vascular plants, particularly species of Myriophyllum. However, the rhizoids are clear and do not have root caps or the other various structures found in roots of vascular plants. Unlike a true stem, the Nitella axis does not have vascular tissue, and the filamentous branches of the whorls are not true leaves (DiTomaso and Kyser et al 2013.

Range Comments
Found throughout North America (DiTomaso and Kyser et al 2013).

Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 255

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density



(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)

Ponds, lakes, reservoirs, streams and rivers, bogs, dikes; frequently in hard, alkaline water, such as in areas of limestone and mineral springs. Some species are capable of living in brackish water (DiTomaso and Kyser et al 2013). Nitella prefers more acidic ponds with muddy bottoms (Swistock and Smiles 2008).

Nitella is an important constituent of natural aquatic ecosystems, commonly beneficial to lakes and ponds by providing food and cover to wildlife (DiTomaso and Kyser et al 2013). Its branches provide food for waterfowl, and foraging areas for grazing insects, who eventually provide food for fish and wildlife. Like roots, the rhizoids help prevent muddy water by stabilizing the sediment (Swistock and Smiles 2008).

Excessive Nitella growth, however, may deplete water oxygen levels, jam filters, afford breeding sites for mosquitoes, impede water flow, or hamper recreational activities. Excessive growth occurs with an overabundance of nitrogen and phosphorus nutrients in the water (Swistock and Smiles 2008).

Reproductive Characteristics
Sexual reproduction results in a zygote that develops into an oospore. The oospore stays dormant, awaiting favorable conditions for germination, undergoing meiosis and growing into the easily-visible gametophyte (DiTomaso and Kyser et al, 2013).

Vegetative reproduction occurs by fragmentation and other methods (DiTomaso and Kyser et al, 2013).

Prevention and Cultural Control

Reduce or divert nutrient-runoff away from the pond. Such runoff originates from barnyards, septic systems, crop fields, and fertilized lawns and golf courses. This can be accomplished by reducing fertilizer treatments near ponds and lakes; maintaining septic systems correctly; and retaining vegetative buffer strips around the pond (Swistock and Smiles 2008).

Establish native submersed plants, which reduce light and space needed by Nitella (DiTomaso and Kyser et al 2013).

To help prevent Nitella’s spread, clean and destroy stem fragments from boats, fishing gear, and other recreational equipment (DiTomaso and Kyser et al 2013).

Physical Control

Raking, pulling, and cutting provide short-term control since spores and fragments left behind allow recolonization (Swistock and Smiles 2008; DiTomaso and Kyser et al 2013).

Install bottom barriers in spring before plants have established much biomass and are still under 10 inches in height. Barrier materials include sheets of polyvinyl chloride, jute, burlap and other natural fibers, and small-mesh screens (DiTomaso and Kyser et al 2013).

Biological Control

Algae-control products containing bacteria and/or enzymes are available. The bacteria and enzymes use the nutrients in the water, making them unavailable for algal growth (Swistock and Smiles 2008).

  • Literature Cited AboveLegend:   View Online Publication
    • DiTomaso, J. M., and G. B. Kyser et al. 2013. Weed Control in Natural Areas in the Western United States. Weed Research and Information Center, University of California. 544 pp.
    • Swistock, B. R., and H. Smiles. 2008. Pond Facts #22: Chara and Nitella. Penn State Extension, College of Agricultural Sciences, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA.
  • Web Search Engines for Articles on "Nitella"
Login Logout
Citation for data on this website:
Nitella — Nitella species.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from