This algal growth may not be considered as a 'weed' in the traditional sense, but is included here as it appears from time-to-time in the garden. After rain, it can suddenly appear, apparently from nowhere, on paths, on roofs and sometimes in poorly-growing lawns. This gave rise to an early belief that it was debris from shooting stars that had fallen to earth, hence some of the common names.
The genus Nostoc contains Blue-green algae which are composed of colonies of Cyanobacteria arranged in strings or filaments called trichomes which are surrounded by a thin sheath. They can be found in water and on land, and are able to withstand extreme environments such as the freezing Arctic or the hot pools near an active volcano - for this reason they are known as extremophiles. They also have the ability to lie dormant for long periods when conditions are unfavourable and come back to life when rehydrated.
The Cyanobacteria can fix nitrogen from the atmosphere and are able to use energy from the sun, but not with the same pigments as the photosynthesis carried out by the chloroplasts in plant cells. Their photosynthesising pigments are free in the cytoplasm and not contained within an organelle such as the chloroplast. They can be the photobiont in Lichens.
The pictures on the right show three forms of terrestrial blue-green algae. The top two show one form taken at different levels of hydration which is arranged in rounded beads that contain a clear gel-like core when hydrated.
Blue-green algae have been used in Asia as a herbal medicine for centuries and recent studies have found properties of pharmacological interest with compounds which can kill cancer cells and HIV. The omega 3 and vitamin B12 they contain are not uptaken to any extent by humans, but are available to the organisms lower in the food chain which consume them.
Although algal blooms are not welcome in waterways and ponds, they can be grown in large vats and harvested to be converted into green fuel. As well as capturing harmful carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, this method of biomass production for fuel can be carried out in desert areas where sunlight is plentiful and land for food production is spared. The rapid growth of the algae makes it more productive than using soya or other feed crops for conversion to fuel. Some researchers at Cambridge University are examining the possibility of using photo-bioreactors in the domestic situation where the algae would be grown in transparent tubes to produce hydrogen for use as fuel; this is given the name "Algaetecture" (from algae and architecture). Also similar devices could be used to convert carbon dioxide and other waste products to biomass which could be used as fuel.
When dry they can look unsightly and when wet they can be very slippery. The bead-like form can be swept up and the rubbery sheets are easily lifted. The loose jelly can be swept up as well. On hard surfaces bleach (20% Sodium Hypochlorite dairy cleanser from farm suppliers) applied to the hydrated algae, or another such cleaner should kill any that remains. 3% Hydrogen Peroxide is also effective. Improve the drainage and fertility in the lawn to discourage its growth.
The pictures below show Blue-green algae in different forms and states of hydration: