Host an Event Volunteer Join Tickets

Support the plant database you love!

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

Can poisonous seed of wild plum be safely removed after steaming from Seymour IA
June 20, 2013 - I read on a related questions that you said the pit/seeds of all wild plums are poisonous. My question is this, can I juice the entire fruit for making jelly without removing the pit first? I have a s...
view the full question and answer

Will corn fall victim to allelopathy from hackberry in Clarkridge AR
March 30, 2013 - Will my corn be inhibited by a nearby hackberry and if so would it help to cut it down? I understand that sometimes the soil is full of the chemicals the tree produces.
view the full question and answer

Use of cenizo (Leucophyllum frutescens) for tea
February 20, 2006 - Back in the 50's when I spent the summers with my grandmother south of Hondo, Texas, she use to pick leaves from the cenizo (purple sage) bushes, dry them and then brew them for tea. I asked one of m...
view the full question and answer

Plants for farm animals from East Greenwich RI
May 03, 2014 - What type of perennial flowers and shrubs are safe to plant around farm animals (dogs, horses, chickens, turkeys) in New England climate?
view the full question and answer

Gardening books for Austin and Central Texas
June 09, 2008 - Hi, I'm looking for a book for my wife. She is a beginning gardener here in Austin. Do you know of an ideal book or two that covers vegetable gardening and gardening in general in Austin/Central Tex...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.