The Nonindigenous Occurrences section of the NAS species profiles has a new structure. The section is now dynamically updated from the NAS database to ensure that it contains the most current and accurate information. Occurrences are summarized in Table 1, alphabetically by state, with years of earliest and most recent observations, and the tally and names of drainages where the species was observed. The table contains hyperlinks to collections tables of specimens based on the states, years, and drainages selected. References to specimens that were not obtained through sighting reports and personal communications are found through the hyperlink in the Table 1 caption or through the individual specimens linked in the collections tables.

Nitellopsis obtusa
Nitellopsis obtusa
(starry stonewort)

Copyright Info
Nitellopsis obtusa (Desvaux in Loiseleur) J. Groves, (1919)

Common name: starry stonewort

Synonyms and Other Names: Chara obtusa, C. ulvoides, C. stelligera, Lychnothamnus stelliger, Nitella stelligera, N. stelligera var. ulvoides, N. ulvoides, N. bertolonii, Nitellopsis aculeolata, N. obtusa var. ulvoides, N. obtusa f. ulvoides , Nitellopsis stelligera, Tolypellopsis obtusa, T. stelligera, T. ulvoides


Stem/Rhizoids: Nitellopsis obtusa has long, variable-length, relatively straight branches arranged in whorls that attach at acute angles to stem nodes. Internodal cells of N. obtusa are quite large, often on the order of a few centimeters long (Steudle and Zimmermann 1977, Yoshioka and Takenaka 1979). Most stem and branch cells are around 1 mm in diameter, while stems can reach up to 80 cm long (Hargeby 1990, Sher-Kaul et al. 1995). Heights of 2 m have been observed at a depth of 9 m in one Michigan lake (Pullman and Crawford 2010), although rate of growth is uncertain. N. obtusa is light green when actively growing. Creamy white bulbils may occur at the base of the main axis just below the substrate-water interface and on branches of the main axis at nodes; rhizoids are star-shaped.

Reproductive structures: Plants are dioecious. Female oogonia, with bracts on either side, form at the upper nodes of branchlets. Plants can form gyrogonites, which are calcified, spiral-shaped fructifications (Bharathan 1983, 1987, Schloesser et al. 1986, Soulie-Marsche et al. 2002). Orange to red oocytes can occur at the nodes of branches (Pullman and Crawford 2010).

Look-a-likes: Chara spp. musk-grass; Nitella spp. brittlewort; other Nitellopsis spp. stonewort. Key differences are the star-shaped rhizoid, the orange-colored oocyte, irregular branching, and lack of a garlic odor (Pullman and Crawford 2010).

Size: Up to 2 m in height (Pullman and Crawford 2010); main stem up to 80 cm long (Hargeby 1990).

Native Range: Nitellopsis obtusa is native to Eurasia, from the west coast of Europe to Japan (Mills et al. 1993, Soulie-Marsche et al. 2002).

Hydrologic Unit Codes (HUCs) Explained
Interactive maps: Point Distribution Maps

Nonindigenous Occurrences:

Table 1. States with nonindigenous occurrences, the earliest and latest observations in each state, and the tally and names of HUCs with observations†. Names and dates are hyperlinked to their relevant specimen records. The list of references for all nonindigenous occurrences of Nitellopsis obtusa are found here.

StateFirst ObservedLast ObservedTotal HUCs with observations†HUCs with observations†
IL202120232Lake Michigan; Upper Fox
IN200820212St. Joseph; Tippecanoe
MI1983202129Au Gres-Rifle; Au Sable; Black-Macatawa; Clinton; Detroit; Flint; Huron; Kalamazoo; Lake Erie; Lake Huron; Lake St. Clair; Little Calumet-Galien; Lone Lake-Ocqueoc; Lower Grand; Manistee; Maple; Millecoquins Lake-Brevoort River; Muskegon; Pere Marquette-White; Pigeon-Wiscoggin; Raisin; Shiawassee; St. Clair; St. Joseph; Thornapple; Thunder Bay; Tiffin; Tittabawassee; Upper Grand
MN201520238Chippewa; Clearwater-Elk; Crow; Leech Lake; Mississippi Headwaters; Red Lakes; Sauk; Twin Cities
NY1978202216Chemung; Chenango; Conewango; Headwaters St. Lawrence River; Indian; Irondequoit-Ninemile; Lake Erie; Lake Ontario; Niagara River; Oak Orchard-Twelvemile; Oneida; Oswegatchie; Raisin River-St. Lawrence River; Salmon-Sandy; Seneca; Upper Susquehanna
OH201720171Lake Erie
PA200920181Lake Erie
VT201520161St. Francois River
WI201420228Door-Kewaunee; Lake Michigan; Middle Rock; Milwaukee; Upper Fox; Upper Fox; Upper Rock; Wolf

Table last updated 6/20/2024

† Populations may not be currently present.

Ecology: Nitellopsis obtusa is sometimes found in deep, slow moving water where other plants are scarce, typically near docks and marinas (Midwood et al. 2016). Nitellopsis obtusa is known to maintain permanent populations in freshwater or brackish water with salinity up to 5%. It can tolerate salinity fluctuations up to 17% for around 1 week. Under high salt loading or unfavorable environmental conditions, it has the ability to shift cells from a high-energy state to a state of passive permeability. It experiences suppressed growth at water temperatures of 30°C. In such conditions, apical cells no longer form and some plant cells may die (Marchyulenene et al. 1982, Moteyunene and Vorob’ev 1981, Winter et al. 1999). In areas of dense vegetation, N. obtusa forms “pillows” of various heights; as growth slows, these pillowed mats may develop circular clearings (Pullman and Crawford 2010). Under eutrophic conditions, it often produces oospores (Bharathan 1987).

Nitellopsis obtusa occurs at depths of 1–3.5 m in relatively protected zones of the St. Clair-Detroit River system at water velocities of 3–11 cm/s; on soft substrates such as silt, sand, and fine detritus; and where light transmittance ranges from 1–50%. In this system, it first appears around July and reaches highest biomass levels in September, gradually declining until March of the following year, when it decomposes. It has been recorded in water temperatures of 0–24°C in this area. It occurs more in the Detroit River than the St. Clair River, while other stoneworts (Family Characeae) occur more frequently in the latter. The environmental parameters determining stonewort distribution in these two rivers are not known. In the St. Lawrence River, it is uncommon in early July but increases through September. It occurs at an average depth of 4.8 m depth and 6% light transmittance. In its native habitat, it is typically found at depths of 3–8 m, preferring deeper habitats with low light transmittance but relatively high calcium and phosphorus content, where other stoneworts generally occur less frequently (Berger and Schagerl 2004, Nicholls et al. 1988, Schloesser et al. 1986).

Means of Introduction: Nitellopsis obtusa was very likely introduced in ballast water to the Great Lakes (Mills et al. 1993, Schloesser et al. 1986). Nitellopsis obtusa produces oocytes that can easily become attached to the fur and feathers of mammals and birds that inhabit infested areas. This mechanism is an efficient way for N. obtusa to spread rapidly amongst inland lakes (Pullman and Crawford 2010). The alga also spreads via fragmentation (Pullman and Crawford 2010).

Status: Established in Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Wisconsin.

Impact of Introduction:
Summary of species impacts derived from literature review. Click on an icon to find out more...


Starry stonewort mats act as benthic barriers accumulating phytotoxins and making sediments inhospitable for plant growth (Pullman and Crawford 2010). Due to this habit, rootless plants such as common bladderwort (Utricularia vulgaris) and coon's tail (Ceratophyllum demersum) thrive in communities with N. obtusa (Pullman and Crawford 2010).

Dense mats of N. obtusa directly impact the habitat used by native fish for spawning. Bass and sunfish are known to regularly spawn in dense growths of native Chara species, but these spawning behaviors did not occur in correspondingly dense growths of N. obtusa (Pullman and Crawford 2010).

Nitellopsis obtusa has been associated with increased water clarity in inland lakes, which could in part be due to their association with zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) as a favored substrate. In spite of increased water clarity from the mussels, the dense growth of N. obtusa actually reduces light availability for other submersed flora (Pullman and Crawford 2010).

Nitellopsis obtusa is a highly aggressive competitor and was recorded replacing other non-native species, including Eurasian watermilfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum), fanwort (Cabomba caroliniana), and curly-leaf pondweed (Potamogeton crispus) (Pullman and Crawford 2010). Hilt et al. (2010) suggested that N. obtusa could be an effective means of restoration for deep lakes in its native range.

There is also research indicating that macrophyte species have a strong influence on phytoplankton through allelopathic interactions (Hilt et al. 2010, Mulderij et al. 2007, Pullman and Crawford 2010).

Remarks: Nitellopsis obtusa was thought to have been locally extirpated in some regions of its native range where it has been rediscovered—for example, in parts of Germany (Golombek 1998, Raabe 2006) and Japan (Kato et al. 2005). It is considered rare in Bremen, Germany but has recently increased in abundance in some lakes (Trapp and Kirst 1999). Populations are considered somewhat vulnerable in Sweden (Blindow 1994).

References: (click for full references)

Aquatic Enhancement & Survey, Inc. 2015. Adams Lake aquatic vegetation management plan - 2014 update. Adams Lake Conservation Club, Johnson, IN.

Aquatic Weed Control. 2015. Lake Wawasee and Syracuse Lake aquatic vegetation management plan - 2014 update. The Wawasee Area Conservancy Foundation, Syracuse, IN.

Bagley, L. 2015. Ontwa Township takes steps to protect Eagle Lake from algae. South Bend Tribune. South Bend, IN. http://www.southbendtribune.com/ontwa-township-takes-steps-to-protect-eagle-lake-from-algae/article_7d5dbc8c-5c52-11e5-aa73-5bb276359588.html. Created on 09/16/2015. Accessed on 09/16/2015.

Berger, J., and M. Schagerl. 2004. Allelopathic activity of Charcaeae. Biologia (Bratislava) 59(1): 9-15.

Bharathan, S. 1983. Developmental morphology of Nitellopsis obtusa. Proceedings of the Indian Academy of Sciences. Plant Sciences 92(5): 373-379.

Bharathan, S. 1987. Bulbils of some charophytes. Proceedings of the Indian Academy of Sciences. Plant Sciences 97(3): 257-264.

Blindow, I. 1987. The composition and density of epiphyton on several species of submerged macrophytes – the neutral substrate hypothesis tested. Aquatic Botany 29: 157-168.

Blindow, I. 1994. Rare and threatened charophytes in Sweden. Svensk Botanisk Tidskrift 8(2): 65-73.

Edgell, R. 2011. DNR to treat four northeastern lakes for invasive plants this summer. Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Indianapolis, IN. http://www.in.gov/activecalendar_dnr/EventList.aspx?fromdate=1/1/2007&todate=9/30/2015&display=Month&type=public&eventidn=4181&view=EventDetails&information_id=8361. Created on 04/25/2011. Accessed on 09/03/2015.

FLOW. 2015. New aquatic invasive species confirmed in Lake Memphremagog. Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, Watershed Management Division. Montpelier, VT. http://vtwatershedblog.com/2015/09/16/new-aquatic-invasive-species-confirmed-in-lake-memphremagog/. Created on 09/16/2015. Accessed on 09/17/2015.

Geis, J.W., Schumacher, G.J, Raynal, D.J., and Hyduke, D.P. 1981. Distribution of Nitellopsis obtusa (Charophyceae, Caraceae) in the St. Lawrence River: a new record for North America. Phycologia 20:211-214.

Golombek, P. 1998. Rediscovery of Nitellopsis obtusa in Hamburg. Floristische Rundbriefe 32(1): 105-109.

Hargeby, A. 1990. Macrophyte associated invertebrates and the effect of habitat permanence. Oikos 57(3): 338-346.

Hilt, S., I. Henschke, J. Rucker, and B. Nixdorf. 2010. Can submerged macrophytes influence turbidity and trophic state in deep lakes? Suggestions from a case study. Journal of Environmental Quality 39: 725-733.

iMapInvasives. 2015. iMapInvasives New York. iMapInvasives. www.nyimapinvasives.org. Created on 07/08/2015. Accessed on 07/08/2015.

Karol, K.G., and R.S. Sleith. 2017. Discovery of the oldest record of Nitellopsis obtusa (Charophyceae, Charophyta) in North America. Journal of Phycology 53(1):1106-1108. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jpy.12557.

Kato, S., S. Higuchi, Y. Kondo, S. Kitano, H. Nozaki, and J. Tanaka. 2005. Rediscovery of the wild-extinct species Nitellopsis obtusa (Charales) in Lake Kawaguchi, Japan. Journal of Japanese Botany 80(2): 84-91.

Lewandowski, K., and T. Ozimek. 1997. Relationship of Dreissena polymorpha (Pall.) to various species of submerged macrophytes. Polskie Archiwum Hydrobiologii 44(4): 457-466.

Marchyulenene, D.P., R.F. Dushauskene-Duzh, E.B. Moteyunene, I.Y. Trainauskaite, and V.B. Nyanishkene. 1982. Effect of temperature conditions in a water body on hydro photocenoses. Soviet Journal of Ecology 13(2): 120-125.

Michigan State University. 2015. Midwest Invasive Species Information Network (MISIN). Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI. http://www.misin.msu.edu/browse/.

Mills, E.L., J.H. Leach, J.T. Carlton, and C.L. Secor. 1993. Exotic species in the Great Lakes: a history of biotic crises and anthropogenic introductions. Journal of Great Lakes Research 19(1): 1-54.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MN DNR). 2015. Invasive species starry stonewort confirmed in Stearns, Meeker county lakes. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. St. Paul, MN. http://news.dnr.state.mn.us/2015/08/28/invasive-species-starry-stonewort-confirmed-in-stearns-meeker-county-lakes/. Created on 08/28/2015. Accessed on 08/31/2015.

Moteyunene, E.B., and L.N. Vorob’ev. 1981. Ecological physiological characteristics of Charophyta algae cells. 2. Ionic permeability of cell membranes. Lietuvos TSR Mokslu Akademijos Darbai Serija C Biologijos Mokslai 1: 99-114.

Mulderij, G., E.H. Van Nes, and E. Van Donk. 2007. Macrophyte-phytoplankton interactions: The relative importance of allelopathy versus other factors. Ecological Modeling 204: 85-92.

Nicholls, S.J., D.W. Schloesser, and J.W. Geis. 1988. Seasonal growth of the exotic submersed macrophyte Nitellopsis obtusa in the Detroit River of the Great Lakes. Canadian Journal of Botany 66: 116-118.

Pearson, J. 2015. DNR limiting weed control at Lake Tippecanoe. Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Indianapolis, IN. http://www.in.gov/activecalendar_dnr/EventList.aspx?fromdate=1/1/2007&todate=9/30/2015&display=Month&type=public&eventidn=7967&view=EventDetails&information_id=16512. Created on 05/14/2015. Accessed on 09/03/2015.

Pullman, G., and G. Crawford. 2010. A Decade of Starry Stonewort in Michigan. Lakeline. pp. 36-42.

Raabe, U. 2006. Starry stonewort (Nitellopsis obtusa) rediscovered in Berlin. Verhandlungen des Botanischen Vereins von Berlin und Brandenburg 139: 181-186.

Ruiters, P.S., R. Noordhuis, and M.S. Van Den Berg. 1994. Stoneworts account for fluctuations in Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina numbers in the Netherlands. Limosa 67(4): 147-158.

Schloesser, D.W., P.L. Hudson, and S. Jerrine Nichols. 1986. Distribution and habitat of Nitella obtusa (Characeae) in the Laurentian Great Lakes. Hydrobiologia 133: 91-96.

Sher-Kaul, S., B. Oertli, E. Castella, and J.B. Lachavanne. 1995. Relationship between biomass and surface area of six submerged aquatic plants species. Aquatic Botany 51: 147-154.

Simons, J., M. Ohm, R. Daalder, P. Boers, and W. Rip. 1994. Restoration of Botshol (The Netherlands) by reduction of external nutrient load: recovery of a characean community, dominated by Chara connivens. Hydrobiologia 275-276: 243-253.

Soulie-Marsche, I., M. Benammi, and P. Gemayel. 2002. Biogeography of living and fossil Nitellopsis (Charophyta) in relationship to new finds from Morocco. Journal of Biogeography 29(12): 1703-1711.

Steudle, E., and U. Zimmermann. 1977. Effect of turgor pressure and cell size on the wall elasticity of plant cells. Plant Physiology 59:285-289.

Trapp, S. and G.0. Kirst. 1999. Nitellopsis obtusa in Bremen. Abhandlungen Naturwissenschaftlichen Verein zu Bremen 44(2-3): 505-510.

Winter, U., G.O. Kirst, V. Grabowski, U. Heinemann, I. Plettner, and S. Wiese. 1999. Salinity tolerance in Nitellopsis obtusa. Australian Journal of Botany 47(3): 337-346.

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WI DNR). 2014. Local effort underway to manage recently discovered invasive algae in southeast Wisconsin. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Madison, WI. http://dnr.wi.gov/news/releases/article/print.asp?id=3417. Created on 11/25/2014. Accessed on 08/31/2015.

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WI DNR). 2015. Aquatic invasive species by waterbody. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Madison, WI. http://dnr.wi.gov/lakes/invasives/AISByWaterbody.aspx. Accessed on 09/02/2015.

Yoshioka, T., and T. Takenaka. 1979. Nitellopsis obtusa cell birefringence change during action potential. Biophysics of Structure and Mechanism 5: 1-10.

Author: Kipp, R.M., M. McCarthy, A. Fusaro, and I.A. Pfingsten

Revision Date: 1/15/2020

Peer Review Date: 11/12/2012

Citation Information:
Kipp, R.M., M. McCarthy, A. Fusaro, and I.A. Pfingsten, 2024, Nitellopsis obtusa (Desvaux in Loiseleur) J. Groves, (1919): U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?speciesID=1688, Revision Date: 1/15/2020, Peer Review Date: 11/12/2012, Access Date: 6/21/2024

This information is preliminary or provisional and is subject to revision. It is being provided to meet the need for timely best science. The information has not received final approval by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and is provided on the condition that neither the USGS nor the U.S. Government shall be held liable for any damages resulting from the authorized or unauthorized use of the information.


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Citation information: U.S. Geological Survey. [2024]. Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Gainesville, Florida. Accessed [6/21/2024].

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