Cathy spotted this growing in our back yard and said I should come take some pictures. It was late in the day and the light was fading so they didn’t turn out as well as I would have liked. These are the sporangia of a slime mold (or mould in England). I believe it is Stemonitis splendens, the so-called chocolate tube slime. These don’t do any harm to garden plants, despite their somewhat alarming appearance. They actually live on the surface of leaves and are not actually parasitic. They feed on decaying organic matter and actually move in a way that seems more animal than vegetable. They form finger-like projections which then pull the body of the slime mold along. Creepy (literally!). From the Mississippi State University Extension Service:
When the slime mold is ready to reproduce, at some point during spring or summer generally following a period of rainy weather, it “crawls” up on grass blades, lower stems and foliage of landscape plants, the surface of landscape mulch, or even garden hoses. From these locations, the slime mold releases millions of dusty-gray spores.