You may remember that some time back I told you about the exceedingly odd Bleeding Tooth Fungus that grew in my backyard. Well now, after Violet Towne spotted the above seaweed-like stuff on our driveway the other day, I think I may have to start up a new Cow Category called ‘Weird Shit That Mysteriously Appears In My Garden’. There were dozens of clumps of it, and it looks just like something you might find on the beach at low tide.(i) Only we’re 20 kilometers away from the nearest ocean, and this stuff was still damp.

Turns out that this is the colony form of a rehydrated genus of cyanobacteria called Nostoc. Nostoc can be found pretty much everywhere in the world, and due to the bacteria’s ability to survive (and even thrive) in harsh environments it is even quite happy in the Arctic and Antarctic.

Most of the time the Nostoc colony goes completely unnoticed, but after a lot of rain, it may swell up into jelly-like blobs such as the ones in my garden. Its sudden appearance on the ground with no apparent cause has earned it the folk name of Star Jelly, as it was thought to have fallen from the sky.

Nostoc is also known (much more evocatively) as Witches’ Butter or Troll’s Butter and some species are in fact eaten, particularly in Asia where people seem to delight in gobbling down disgusting things. There’s no way I’m chowing down on it. For one thing it’s been found to containe Beta-methylamino L-alanine, a toxic amino acid that has been implicated in degenerative brain diseases.(ii)

I have a simple dietary guideline in this respect: Never eat or drink anything that looks or smells like some kind of biological excretion. It has served me well thus far.

  1. Or in a troll’s nostril. []
  2. Although I have to say that in my opinion anyone who would consider eating it is well along the degenerative brain disease path in the first place… []