May 14, 2012

WARNING: Don't Read While Eating Breakfast!

"Uh, mom...it looks like Rico barfed in the mulch."

Indeed, the first time I saw this, um, development, in the mulch a few weeks ago, that's exactly what I thought had happened.

Dog Vomit Slime Mold, stage 1

But then, what at the start of the day had looked like a semi-liquid pile of pale yellow sick, a few hours later had turned into a foamy, gooey, egg-yolk-yellow mass of what was clearly a living organism of some kind.

A different pile, in stage 2

A couple of days later, it had hardened to the consistency of a meringue cookie, and when I scraped the surface away, there was a powdery black substance inside. The first time this happened I figured it must be some sort of weird growth. After all, mushrooms regularly pop up in the mulch, so why not a bizarre type of fungus? I assumed it wasn't harmful (it isn't) and kind of forgot about it. But then it started showing up again...and again...and yet again. It was time to figure out what it was.

It basically still looks like this, two weeks later.

Thank God for the Internet! A quick Google search for "fungus in mulch" turned up University of Wisconsin biologist Tom Volk's Mulch fungi page, and within minutes I had identified my blob. Are you ready for this? Its official name is--appropriately--Dog Vomit Slime Mold, and it turns out it's pretty common. It's not a harmful creature, though Dr. Volk does suggest you don't eat it (yuck!!) This is a mold, not a fungus even though it resembles one, and it's Latin name is Fuligo septica. It's actually kind of fascinating, biologically speaking; it has no cell walls, and only a cell membrane to keep itself together.

Dr. Volk's advice: "There's no way to get rid of it, so I recommend you just enjoy it." Enjoying it might be a bit of a stretch at this point, but it's definitely been interesting and even entertaining. This afternoon I heard one of the neighborhood kids who was playing in the backyard say, "Eeewww, nasty! What is that?"

What do you think? Disgusting? Fascinating? Beautiful? And do let me know if you've ever "enjoyed" anything like this in your yard.

13 comments:

  1. Disgusting, fascinating and beautiful all at the same time. And, from my particular focus, a bit disappointing in that it cannot be eaten.

    Love this blog. I look forward to regularly visiting.

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    1. Ha, ha! You would want to eat it. :) Actually, Dr. Volk's site says it's gathered and eaten in Mexico. "Usually the plasmodium comes out at night and is collected by moonlight in jars. The plasmodia are brought home, where they are mixed and eaten like scrambled eggs!!" I promise I will NOT let you in the yard to collect any for eating, though, because that does sound disgusting.

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  2. Art of San DiegoMay 14, 2012 at 11:16 AM

    Interesting! Reminds me of something that I cooked (freeze dried scrambled eggs) while on a back pack trip... Seriously, this is great information. We were saying this morning, that we've seen stuff like this out in the garden (when we were in Pt. Reyes), but had no idea. Great blog!!!

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    1. Funny you should say that; see my reply to Paul's post above.

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  3. Is it easily spread? How does it spread? Is it common everywhere or just in warm dry climates (for example)? Well named and gross!

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  4. Yes, the best way to spread it is to try to get rid of it! Spraying it with water or scraping/shoveling it distributes the spores. It apparently thrives on decaying wood (hence its appearance in mulch), but the climate doesn't seem to matter. It's all over Europe, too, and I discovered it has other names there: Troll Butter, or Heksenboter (witch butter) for you Dutch speakers.

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  5. Hi Saskia, First time seeing your blog. Are you growing all of your food? and no I have not seen Dog vomit slime mold at my house! -Hazel

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    1. Hi Hazel! No, not all of it, but quite a lot of it. More than we can eat sometimes, actually. Should I add you to my list of people to email when we have extra veggies? (You could even come by today and pick up some Valencia oranges, lettuce, and/or fresh eggs if you'd like.)

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  6. I think the Bermuda grass coming up between the mulch is both more disgusting and scarier than the dog vomit slime mold.

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    1. Hey, you weren't supposed to notice that!! But, I do agree. Successful eradication of the evil grass is a whole separate topic.

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  7. Hey Saskia and Kevin!

    Great Blog! We grow most of our own veggies for 6 mnoths out the year here in Atascadero CA. I welcome molds as an indication of active soil culture.

    Our best tip in the Garden- skip the tomatoe cages and pea trellises- we bought cattle fencing panels and cut them down, and leave one side "spiky". We just step them (the spikes) in the ground next to the established plants and weave your plants into them as they grow. Used for this purpose- they store well, can be reused over and over, and will outlive me when used for this purpose. I got tired of the weak cages, and the wood cages I made rot too fast.

    Miss you guys!!

    Andy

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    1. Andy!! Great to hear from you. I like your attitude toward the mold. And it sounds like we do our tomato/bean/pea supports very similar to the way you do, except we're using concrete reinforcing wire instead of cattle panel.

      We miss you guys, too! We might head to San Diego this year via the coast, and if we do we'll have to stop and say hi.

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  8. I love the name....unfortunately I know just what it looks like (the real vomit, that it!)
    -debi

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