Photograph of mossy growth on asphalt roof shingles Photo-guide to Identification of Algae, Fungus, Lichens, Moss on, in or Related to Buildings

  • ALGAE, FUNGUS, LICHENS, MOSS - CONTENTS: Photographs of Algae, lichens, moss, mold help identify these substances in nature and on buildings. Microphotographs of algae, lichens, moss, mold: high magnification views of algae, lichens, moss, mold to 1200x detail characteristics of these organisms. What is the difference between moss and algae or moss and lichens? Do they affect buildings differently? We provide photos and text to help distinguish among algae, lichens, moss and mold growths on any surface.
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about algae, lichens, and moss growth on buildings: cause, remedy, prevention

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Algae, Lichens, Moss on buildings: What's the difference?

This article describes and provide photographs and microscopic photographs of algae, moss, lichens, or fungal growth that occurs on buildings and in nature.

We include links to references useful in the identification of algae, moss, lichens, and mold. Our photo at page top shows moss on an asphalt shingle roof.

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What does Algae look like on or around buildings & Algae under the microscope?

Photograph of green algae on a building

This article series tells readers how to identify, evaluate, remove or prevent stains on building surfaces.

Black stains due to algae

Algae often appears on organic and even inorganic surfaces of buildings and in nature such as on the asphalt roof shingles in this photo.

Black algae stains can also look a lot like extractive bleeding shown in this separate article on EXTRACTIVE BLEEDING on SHINGLES which can appear on asphalt roof shingles.We think that extractive bleeding on shingles is not common while dark algae-based stains on roof surfaces are very common.

While algae is the most common source of black or green roof stains on shingles, when the staining or bleeding appears to run down the roof from individual small points or "spots" this may be something other than a fungal growth or soot: it may b e extractive bleeding or "bleed through" on shingles.

The presence of algae on the roof is an indicator that this roof area is in a shaded spot where you may want to be alert for development of moss or other roof problems, but the level of damage from algae is probably low, even less than that caused by lichens. Avoid any aggressive cleaning methods that might damage the roof surface.

See ALGAE STAINS on ROOFS and also STAINS on ROOF SHINGLES for a more detailed discussion of bleed through or extractive bleeding as well as black algae stains on roof shingles.

Green stains due to algae

Algae stains on concrete (C) Daniel Friedman

Green stains that are algal growth also appear on buildings including on shingles, siding, and even on masonry walls, sidewalks, planters, and retaining walls: stone, concrete block, and concrete. If you see flat green stain on a building exterior and that is not producing any plant-like raised growth it is likely to be an algae.

Watch out: on walks and decks algae makes for a dangerously slippery surface when it is wet. Details are at SLIPPERY STAIRS, WALKS.

Also see STONE SURFACE CLEANING METHODS for details about cleaning and prevention of algae or moss growth on outdoor and other surfaces.

Green algae contamination on cleaning fabrics used in a car wash is illustrated and discussed separately at ALGAE CONTAMINATION at CAR WASH

What does Algae Look Like Under the Microscope

Algae under the microscope (C) Daniel Friedman

Examining a surface or tape lift sample of green "something" on a building surface by using an optical microscope can often quickly tell us if the green stain is biological and is algae, or if it's something else.

Algae under the microscope has a distinctive appearance that easily distinguishes it from moss, lichens, and mold, as we show here. This microphotograph of algae was made in our lab while examining a sample sent to us from our friend and mold lab expert Sue Flappan.

The original algae sample was collected from a concrete sidewalk using simple adhesive tape.

What does Lichens look like on buildings, in nature, and in the microscope?

Lichens, one of the most hardy growth organisms found in nature, can grow in harsh conditions. Lichens is often found growing on roof shingles, especially asphalt and wood shingles as we show here.

Photograph of lichens growth on asphalt shingles (C) Daniel Friedman Photograph of lichens growth on asphalt shingles (C) Daniel Friedman

Our photographs (above) show lichens growing on an asphalt roof shingle in situ (above left). In the photo where our pen is inserted for scale (above right) we had "picked" the spot of lichens gently and flipped it over.

Our pen points to the hole left in the asphalt shingle as the lichens had such a good grip on the mineral granules that when removing the lichens it brought some of the roof protective coating along with itself. If you click to enlarge the photo at above right you'll see the actual mineral granules from the shingle adhered in the "roots" of the lichens.

See LICHENS on ROOFS for details about the causes, effects, and prevention of lichens growth on roofing surfaces.


What does Moss look like on buildings, in nature, and in the microscope?

Moss growing on any roof surface will be more severe on roof sections that area shaded and exposed to periodically damp cool weather conditions.

The presence or absence of much sunlight on a roof surface is often a determining factor in the amount of moss or lichens growth (more sun, less moss and lichens.

Mossy roof shingles (C) Daniel Friedman Mossy roof (C) Daniel Friedman

Moss and lichens are more than a cosmetic issue on many kinds of roofing materials - asphalt shingles, roll roofing, wood shingle roofs, wood shake roofs. By holding moisture against the roof surface lichens but more so moss speed the wear of the asphalt shingle surface in freezing climates by increasing frost damage to the mineral granule coating on the shingles.


Moss under the microscope (C) Daniel Friedman

What Moss Looks Like Under the Microscope - photos

It's easy to see the plant-like structure of moss fragments, as our photograph (left) demonstrates.

This moss sample was collected from a basement wall: we suspect that the damp conditions that produced this moss growth on the building wall also increased the risk of a mold problem in the same structure.

For an identification guide to mosses we include some resources below at Reviewers.

For an extensive catalog of methods for preventing algae, moss, or lichens growth on roofs see How to Prevent Moss, Lichens & Algae Growth on Roofs.

See Black Stain Removal & Prevention for advice on diagnosing, cleaning, and preventing algae stains on roofing.

Online Guides to Types of Stains on Building Surfaces:

Algae at a lake shore traced to failed septic system (C) Daniel Friedman

At STAIN DIAGNOSIS on BUILDING EXTERIORS we list types of stains, contaminants or discoloration seen on building exterior surfaces by stain color & appearance, by building location or material, and by stain cause. We distinguish among the following stuff that may stain or be found growing building roofs, walls, or other surfaces, with extra focus on asphalt shingle roofs as well as other roofing materials such as wood shingles, wood shakes, roll roofing, and even slate or tile roofs. Some of these types of roof stains or discoloration are only cosmetic in nature, while others may indicate growths that are likely to reduce the roof covering life.

At STAIN DIAGNOSIS on BUILDING INTERIORSwe list types of stains found on or in building interiors by stain color & appearance, by building location or material, and by stain cause.

Our photo above shows algae formation in a fresh water lake near a failed septic drainfield.
see SEPTIC FAILURE SPOTS where we describe where effluent typically shows up when the disposal field is failing, including causing algae blooms in nearby waterways.


Continue reading at ALGAE STAIN TEST METHODS or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.


Or see BLACK STAIN REMOVAL & PREVENTION for advice on diagnosing, cleaning, and preventing algae stains on roofing.

Or see SLIPPERY STAIRS, WALKS - algae is one of the slipperiest materials known


Or see STONE SURFACE CLEANING METHODS for a discussion of the mechanical, chemical, lighting, heat and other methods used to remove algae, lichens, moss, and fungi from stone, masonry, roadways, and other exterior surfaces.

Suggested citation for this web page

ALGAE, FUNGUS, LICHENS, MOSS COMPARED at - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.


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