Jun 15, 2019 I Brett Tingley

Virginia Couple Discover Mysterious ‘Star Jelly’ in Garden

A couple in Goochland, Virginia believe they may have come across an instance of legendary star jelly in their yard. Peter and Maria Rippe discovered several piles of a strange, translucent gelatinous substance this week, and nobody is quite sure what the substance is or how it got there. While some believe there may be a benign, quite contemporary explanation for the odd jelly, strikingly similar reports date back to at least the 14th century. What did the Rippes of Goochland discover?

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Star Jelly?

Local news affiliate NBC12 reports that the Rippes found the odd substance on the morning of Tuesday, June 12, and initially believed it to be ice from someone’s cooler dumped in their yard. They seem pretty nonchalant about that theory, even though it’s pretty creepy to imagine someone hanging out in your yard in the middle of the night with a cooler. Nevertheless, upon inspecting the substance, though, the Rippes discovered it wasn’t ice at all, but an unidentified gelatinous material they believe to be star jelly.

Star jelly has been reported around the world for centuries, yet there is little consensus about what it may be. The substance is typically found on the ground but has also been discovered in trees or on buildings. Historically, people believed it to be some sort of astronomical substance falling from the stars themselves. More recently, scientists have theorized that the substance could be the discarded glands or oviducts of frogs and toads which can allegedly swell to huge sizes when they come into contact with moisture after being left behind by discerning predators. Other theories posit that star jelly could be a type of algae or slime mold.

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Amphibian oviducts

There are a few cases in which scientists have examined samples of alleged star jelly only to find the substance to contain no animal or planet cells or DNA of any kind. In this most recent case in Goochland, a representative with the county’s agricultural cooperative extension was able to study a sample under a microscope and likewise found “no cellular structure, no evidence of a living organism.” That same representative claims the substance is likely a water-based polymer used in potting soil mixes.

That still doesn’t explain how it got in the Rippes’ yard. Wouldn’t they remember dumping bags of potting soil all over their yard - not potting soil, actually, but merely a single potting soil additive. How did that get there? What might this substance be? Like all cases of this mysterious substance, this one will likely remain a curiosity.

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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