Mystery Jelly in situ

We answer all kinds of horticulture and nature questions here at the UConn Home and Garden Education Center. This week a citizen called wanting an identification of a ‘mystery jelly’ that appeared on his property. It was out back, near the woods where he dumps leaves and sticks. He said it was ‘leaking’ down the hill off of the pile of leaves. Another spot appeared nearby. He was certain it was growing out of the pile.  Photos  were sent for me to take a look. Sure enough it looked like clear pieces of jelly or really thick cubes of hair gel with a gorgeous green color around the edges of the mass. He said it was impossible that someone came onto his property to  dump something foreign onto his compost pile. To me, it looks like a pile of polymer crystals which had absorbed copious amounts of water. One ounce of crystals will absorb one gallon of water making quite a large pile. The polymer crystals are used in potting soil to retain and slowly release moisture to plant roots. They are also used in flower arrangements and come in different colors. This could be the reason there is some green on the edges or it could be algae growing in the super wet environment. The client brought in a sample for a look under the microscope. No fungal or plant life was found, only clear and green chunks resembling very thick jello pieces. The client couple has used soil moisture retaining potting soil in the past, and could have dumped spent potted plants in this pile. They could not remember them in any flower arrangement, but did no discount this theory either. Either way, it was a good mystery to solve!

Crystals close up. Pamm Cooper photo

Crystals close up.
Pamm Cooper photo

On a different subject, the hummingbirds have arrived back in Connecticut. If you hang feeders, put them out now. Hummers are hungry after traveling back from the Gulf of Mexico and other far off warm areas to avoid our cold winter weather. Smart birds! Typically, they are here from April through mid October. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the only hummingbird east of the Rocky Mountains., so this is the only species we will see in Connecticut. Hummingbirds eat insects and spiders for protein. We humans can supplement their diets with sugar-water. The feeders should be washed and refilled at least weekly.


The recipe for hummingbird food is  one part ordinary white cane sugar to four parts water.It’s not necessary to boil the water. It is not recommended to add red dye of any kind.

Hummingbird feeder, photo

Hummingbird feeder, photo

Plant flowers and vines that will attract hummingbirds, too. Red, pink and orange tubular shaped flowers are their favorite. Cardinal vine, trumpet creeper and petunia are natural attractors. I have had at hanging baskets of verbenia visited daily last summer. Hibiscus and nicotiana are other reliable flowers to bring hummingbirds info the yard.

-Carol Quish