En EspaŅol
Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Mr. Smarty Plants - Identification of strange dark green blobs

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

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
 
rate this answer
2 ratings

Friday - February 03, 2012

From: Moody, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Plant Identification, Edible Plants
Title: Identification of strange dark green blobs
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

In my back yard I have a type of plant with no roots only around in the summer and when it rains. It looks like a person took a piece lettuce and put way too much water into it and wadded it up. It is a little darker green than that. I am wondering if it could be harmful for kids or wild animals. It seems to come and go but if the water stands in the summer it will come back.

ANSWER:

This sounds like the organism, Nostoc, that isn't a plant at all.  It is a cyanobacteria—sometimes call blue-green algae.  This genus is found worldwide—even growing in such severe climates as the Arctic and Antarctic.  The fact that they fix atmospheric nitrogen makes them important nutrients for plant as a fertilizer.  Some of them (e.g., Nostoc flagelliforme, fat choy in China) are edible and considered a delicacy.

Nostoc commune is probably the one you have seen.  Amazingly, it can lie on the ground as a bit of blackened debris; but, as soon as it rains and absorbs water, it turns into the gelatinous blobs you saw.  Not only is Nostoc commune able to survive and thrive in extreme climatic conditions, but it has a UV-A/B absorbing pigment that protects it from extreme UV radiation.  Nostoc commune has also been consumed by the Chinese as well as indigenous people in the Andes.  A recent study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology (Vol. 118, no. 1, pp. 159-65.  June 19, 2008) reports the presence in Nostoc commune of an unusual neurotoxic amino acid (BMMA) that has been linked to neurogenerative diseases such as ALS, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Disease.  So, in answer to your question, it is probably not a good idea to eat huge amounts of it because of the presence of BMMA; but, in general, it isn't likely to harm children or wild animals if tasted in small amounts.

Here is more information and more photos of Nostoc species.

 

More Edible Plants Questions

Is balsam gourd (Ibervillea lindheimeri) poisonous or edible?
August 18, 2008 - Is the Balsam Gourd edible or poisonous?
view the full question and answer

Fiber and dye plants at the Wildflower Center from Round Rock TX
May 24, 2012 - When I visited the Wildflower Center recently I noticed a garden labeled as containing fiber and dye plants, but the individual plants and their uses were not all labeled. I would be very interested ...
view the full question and answer

Eliminating skunk cabbage in Troy, NY
May 19, 2009 - My yard is overgrown with skunk cabbage. My question is how do I get rid of it?
view the full question and answer

Wild Edible Books for Pennsylvania
February 11, 2014 - I was hoping I could get some suggestions of one or more good books on wild edibles that I can find in Southwest PA. Any help will be greatly appreciated.
view the full question and answer

Edible plants beginning with I, T, X and Z in Colorado
March 26, 2009 - My friend would like to know a fruit or vegetable that he would plant in his garden and come back yearly. The plants would have to start with the letters I,T,X, & Z. It has to be edible, of course.
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP
© 2014 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center