Black balls stuck on leaves

dnr24(7b)May 5, 2010

I was pruning my azaleas today when I discovered gall. I cut off all the branches that were infected, but I also noticed a number of leaves in an area that had small black dots or balls stuck on. I could brush them off, but was concerned that they might be a fungus, in which case, I didn't want to spread the spores. My thought is that they are caterpillar waste or something. I saw similar spots on my tomato plants when I had tomato worms. Could this be a problem pest? So far, other than the gall, the leaves look healthy.

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morz8(Washington Coast Z8b)

Azalea leaf gall? If so, removing the galls was the right thing to do.

As for the black spots/dots, a guess without a photo but it does sound like caterpillar frass. Keep an eye on the shrubs, see if any more evidence or damage appears that would warrant treatment.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2010 at 12:45PM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

Another possibility is shotgun fungus. If you have wood mulch, it can develop a fungus that shoots tar like spore cases that stick to anything they touch.

From Cornel University:

The spots may actually be spores from members of a group of fungi commonly called the "shotgun" or "artillery" fungi in the genus Sphaerobolus. These fungi colonize dung or other organic matter such as wood mulch, wood benches, wood sheds, etc.

Artillery fungi use an interesting mechanism to disperse their spores. Dark brown spore packets, called peridioles, sit on top of specialized cup-shaped cells which accumulate water and cell contents. When enough liquid is accumulated, the cupped cells invert causing the cells to burst and propel the peridioles as high as 19 feet where they can adhere to new surfaces.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2010 at 8:51AM
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Hi rhodyman, I just came across your response about the little black balls and it sounds like exactly what' happening in my kitchen! I have herbs growing on my windowsill - basil, thyme, rosemary, mint and garlic chives. For the past few months I've noticed these little black balls that look like poppy seeds stuck to mostly the mint leaves (mostly on the bottom but also on top), and also all along the ceiling above the plants and on the window that the plants sit next to.

What is happening in my kitchen?!? Thank you!

    Bookmark   May 15, 2011 at 7:57AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Danielle, that certainly sounds like artillery fungus spores! I'd dispatch those herbs to the outside and get them repotted, tout de suite!

Artillery fungus grows on old wood, such as might be in your potting soil or mulch. Other culprits could be any unpainted wooden structures. I've seen it arise on someone's wooden window frames in an old garage. Inside that garage was parked a very rare antique automobile, fully restored. The paint job was ruined.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 1:09PM
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