Disease Alert: Ova paschalis

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Text and photos ©Nancy J. Ondra

Corresponding with the arrival of gradually warmer temperatures at the end of the winter season, the appearance of Ova paschalis fruiting bodies is a curious phenomenon of the spring season in many parts of the United States.

O. paschalis var. arborea appears close to the branch tips, suspended by loop-like structures.

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This disease generally forms on woody plants but otherwise does not appear to be host-specific. It may appear on evergreens…

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…or deciduous species.

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Small shrubs and trees – particularly those growing in open spaces where no larger woody plants are nearby – may be heavily infected.

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On larger trees, the fruiting bodies tend to form primarily on the lowest branches, seldom appearing more than 6 or 7 feet above ground level, possibly indicating that the spores are soil-borne.

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There is another variant, O. paschalis var. terrestris, which forms directly on the ground. Both types appear suddenly, with no symptoms of infection visible prior to their development. But unlike O. paschalis var. arborea, which typically appears in mid- to late March and remains visible for several weeks, O. paschalis var. terrestris commonly appears and disappears within a few hours. It occasionally forms on expanses of turfgrass but is usually found in sheltered places.

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Scientists researching this phenomenon have reported observing rabbits (Order Lagomorpha) in the area of these fruiting bodies.

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Despite much historical evidence of these sightings, however, no definitive connection has yet been made.

It is evident upon close inspection that these fruiting bodies have a hard, remarkably plastic-like shell with a distinct seam.

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When opened, the structures of O. paschalis var. arborea typically appear to be empty, while those of O. paschalis var. terrestris often contain large spores that may be edible or ornamental.

While this disease forms exclusively in landscape settings, particularly close to homes, and tends to reappear year after year in the same place, it does not seem to have any detrimental effects to plants or people (except in the case of ingesting too many of the edible spores). And, unlike the phosphorescent spores of that other seasonal phenomenon, Lux noel, which outlines woody plants and structures around midwinter and often lingers for many weeks or months after its noctural glow is extinguished, Ova paschalis usually disappears completely by the end of April, so no control measures are necessary. In fact, many welcome the colorful fruiting bodies for their ornamental value.

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All of the photographs accompanying this bulletin were taken in Bucks Country, Pennsylvania. Reports of this phenomenon occurring in other areas are welcomed by the writer.

19 responses to this post.

  1. Lovely, Nan! I cracked up as soon as I read the title, suspecting what was coming. I’ve seen such symptoms popping up around these parts too, however, my own garden is happily resistant!

    Glad you enjoyed it, Jodi. The symptoms appeared very briefly in my own garden yesterday, but hand-picking the fruting bodies seems to have prevented any more from developing.
    -Nan

  2. OMG – LOL! I love the shot of the “rabbit” with the “fruiting bodies.” Thanks, I so needed this today.

    Heh. That was my favorite too. Glad I could brighten your day.
    -Nan

  3. What a joy of a post, a smile, and a celebration. Thank you!

    And thank *you* for visiting, Nancy. Happy Easter!
    -Nan

  4. Oh dear, will your lovely hellebores be okay? I’ve seen this malady in a few places here in Northwest Ohio, too.

    (Cute post! Happy Easter!)

    Oh, you know hellebores are pretty tough, so I’m not worried. Thanks for reporting the occurrence in your area. I wondered if it was mostly a Pennsylvania thing. Happy Easter to you too!
    -Nan

  5. Hmm, interesting, Nan. Here in Austin I am seeing something similar developing in clusters on the ground, generally right in front of foundation shrubs. They share the same shape and coloring as your Ova paschalis, but they are Texas-sized–at least two feet in length. Quite astonishing!

    Oh, my! So it’s really true that everything is bigger in Texas? Maybe it’s all that warm weather….
    -Nan

  6. Nan ! You have totally cracked me up this morning (oops .. the verb cracked might be touchy ? with this post ?) .. What a crazy gal you are with such a wacky sense of serious humour .. I have been alerted to watch for further developments involving said serious humour NOW !! hehehehehe
    Joy

    Yeah, I was trying to think of something punny to say when Jodi used “cracked” too, but I couldn’t do it. I’ll probably come up with something great weeks from now. Anyway, I’m glad you enjoyed my little eggsperiment.
    -Nan

  7. Posted by ourfriendben on April 12, 2009 at 10:48 am

    Ha!!! This is deathless, Nan! Like you, I thought this was a local ‘disease,’ having never seen it before coming to PA. But it’s quite widespread in the Kutztown/Topton area for sure! Thanks for a great post and a good laugh.

    Yep, I remember them being popular in Emmaus, too. That’s what made me wonder if it was mostly a Pennsylvania Dutch tradition.
    -Nan

  8. Hi Nan, I think I have to take this to the nursery where I work so we’re all aware of this disease!I’m so glad you were able to diagnose it so thoroughly. I don’t believe I’ve seen too much of it here in Seattle, but I’ll be on the look out for it.

    If you haven’t seen symptoms out your way by this point, I think it’s quite unlikely that any will appear this year. But, you’ll know to keep an eye out for them next spring – maybe even in your own garden! Perhaps you need to import some plants from Pennsylvania to inoculate your soil?
    -Nan

  9. Nan, I saw this disease when I first moved to Middle Tennessee and didn’t know it had spread across the land! I wonder how quickly this illness will disappear or if it will linger on the ‘infected’ plants a few days! Have a great week! gail

    Ah, another climate heard from; thanks, Gail. I predict the symptoms will linger a few more days, then disappear once the weather warms up. Or until it gets *really* windy.
    -Nan

  10. I noticed all forms of O. paschalis in my garden yesterday. Fortunately, I had several nieces and nephews who helped me round them up so we could do an more in depth study of them. I can report that here in Indiana… they come in all colors, and are easily opened, for the most part. The contents varied but included some pieces of what looked like chocolate, which turned out to be edible, money in both the coin and paper form (perhaps proving that money does grow on trees?) and notes (giving credibility that another life form is involved here).

    We should continue to compare notes and perhaps map out where these have been seen. It appears to be a more wide spread phenomenon/disease!

    Oh my, Carol – written communications found inside of the fruiting bodies? That’s a development I hadn’t heard of before. The implications are staggering. So it’s not rabbits at all; it’s aliens?!
    -Nan

    Hope you had a Happy Easter!

  11. Posted by Lisa at Greenbow on April 13, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    I am eager to report there is such a disease in SW Indiana too. As a matter of fact there is quite an infestation in the pots of flowers on my front porch. This shouldn’t surprise anyone since there is a large rabbit bearing flowers sitting on the bench that is also on the front porch. I tend to think that this rabbit is the carrier of this disease. Thank you for such an explanation of said disease. This has had another side effect. My jaws are hurting from laughing so much.

    I wouldn’t have believed if if you hadn’t posted pics to prove it, Lisa – yet another variant of this ineggsplicable phenomenon!
    -Nan

  12. Thanks for alerting us to this strange and ineggsplicable disease. Are you hatching any plans for preventing an outbreak next year? Or is it just the yolk we have to bear?

    Oooo nooo! Eggcellent punnage, Pomona. Allow me to give you a standing ovation.
    Nan

  13. Hi Nan~~ I wish I could think of snappy reply but it’s late and my brain has already shut down. You deserve a big time award for this literary jewel. One thing: Teenagers emit an aura that repels said fruiting bodies from forming.

    Now that you mention it, I’ve noticed that the phenomenon does occur mostly around homes with pre-teen children, disappearing around the time they reach puberty. So, perhaps raging hormones are a form of organic control? Hmmm. May as well be good for something, I suppose!
    -Nan

  14. Your post made me laugh! How very funny! I think we’ve got that disease here in Sweden as well!
    Katarina

    Oh my goodness, Katarina – thanks for letting us know that it is an international incident!
    -Nan

  15. I think this disease will be making its’ way to my trees and shrubs next year when the new grandchild will be one! LOL at this one. Too funny!

    Yes, I do think it’s possible to predict when outbreaks may occur on one’s own property. You’ll have to share a picture of the spectacle, Layanee.
    -Nan

  16. Posted by Bill on April 16, 2009 at 7:23 am

    This disease apparently was first identified in the late 1970s, somewhere in south central Pennsylvania, quickly heading eastward to the Philadelphia region. It then spread very slowly south and westward, beyond the state borders. I heard someone theorized it might have arrived in a coconut shipment that was imported by a Pennsylvania German dark chocolate confectioner. The good thing is it is relatively ephemeral and disappears usually by mid spring, with no long-term effects on the infected plants.

    An interesting theory, Bill! I’d only question the date of possible introduction. As you know, I pre-date the late 70s and remember seeing the symptoms before that. So, maybe it was the late 60s?
    -Nan

  17. After my experience with a diseased toad lily last Summer, I thought this was going to be a very serious post! :-) Totally cracked me up – What a good yolk! ;-) You’re a good egg, Nan!

    Hey there, Shady. Glad you enjoyed the seasonal silliness!
    -Nan

  18. I am sorry I missed this entry at Easter time I would have posted some of my diseased trees and bushes. Maybe next year. Enjoying your blog this spring.

    Thanks for visiting, Bren. At least you’ll be prepared for next spring’s outbreak. All symptoms of this year’s infection have already disappeared this year, seemingly overnight.
    -Nan

  19. Nan, my trees used to have this problem right around the same time my children were quite young. Now that they are in their teens, my plants have not had this problem.

    Thanks for one of the best posts I’ve read in a long time!

    Ah hah! Yes, that fits my observations as well. Thanks for reporting on its occurrence up your way, Melanie.
    -Nan

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