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Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Friday - January 08, 2010

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Plant Identification
Title: Identification of fleshy green lobes on the ground
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I have been hiking in the Austin area and it is January: Noticing dark green, rubbery, lobe shaped sheets on the ground. Less then 2". Usually near low growing fuzzy moss clumps. There are many of them in one patch on the ground, but seem to be singular wrinkled green lobes. -Are these "Liverworts" or some form of the moss reproduction? I can find a lot of Liverwort photos- but none that look close to what we are seeing in Central Texas.

ANSWER:

What you are seeing is a type of Cyanobacteria called Nostoc commune.  Actually, it is a colony of single-celled cyanobacteria.  They have often been called blue-green algae because of their color and the fact that they are photosynthetic like the true algae.  However, the cyanobacteria are prokaryotes—meaning that their DNA is not held within a membrane-bound nucleus; whereas, true algae are eukaryotes with a membrane-bound nucleus. In fact, it is thought that the chloroplasts in green plants that carry out photosynthesis were derived during early evolution by the inclusion of cyanobacteria into their cells.  Here is a little more information about the cyanobacteria. Nostoc is an amazing organism because of its ability to withstand desiccation and extreme temperatures.  It occurs worldwide—from the Tropics to the Arctic and Antarctic.  As long as there is sufficient moisture you'll find Nostoc as the rubbery, green structures on the ground; but as soon as the weather gets dry, it will be there as rather unspectacular dried black mats.   Here are photos and more photos of Nostoc commune.

 

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