En Español

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.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

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

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

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

Grafting to a cherry laurel for edible fruit in Austin
July 01, 2010 - I was the one who asked earlier about grafting to a Cherry Laurel. I will happily graft a local plum on it, say a Mexican Plum or American Plum or one of the naturalized peaches (a friend has an India...
view the full question and answer

Information about growing food in Arizona
May 25, 2009 - Edible plants in Arizona: How can I get information on planting and growing food in Scottsdale Arizona?
view the full question and answer

Can tulip tree sap be used to make syrup in Bunker Hill IN?
July 10, 2009 - I was just wondering if tulip tree sap could be used to make syrup. I saw the sticky stuff on the leaves and decided to taste test it and it was very sweet, unfortunately I later found out that I was ...
view the full question and answer

Culture of Polytaenia nuttallii, Prairie Parsley
January 21, 2011 - Polytaenia nuttallii is listed at the Wildflower Center as a biennial. PLANTS database lists it as a perennial. Please clear this up if you can. If I plant this at home with tomato plants will it...
view the full question and answer

What is a groundnut? from River Vale NJ
July 11, 2009 - I just read the book "Mayflower" which talks about the Massachusetts natives and, subsequently, the Pilgrims eating groundnuts; mentions the groundnuts going to seed in early summer. What are ...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | JOBS | SITEMAP | STAFF INTRANET
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center