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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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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!

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Thursday - March 12, 2009

From: Driftwood, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Plant Identification
Title: Name of algae on ground that swells after a rain
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

What is the name of the algae looking stuff on the ground that swells up after rain. I thought it was "nostock" but I can't locate that name anywhere. Thanks!

ANSWER:

The name you are looking for is Nostoc.  They once were called "blue-green algae"; but they aren't algae and even though they can photosynthesize their own food, they aren't plants at all—they are cyanobacteria.  They are ancient organisms, the oldest known fossils.  The chloroplasts in plants (where photosynthesis takes place) originated when eukaryotic cells (those containing nuclei—bacteria don't have nuclei) started enclosing cyanobacteria in their cells.  The eukaryotic cells benefited from the cyanobacteria photosynthesizing food for them and the cyanobacteria benefited from the protection it gained in the eukaryotic cell.
 

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