While digging a drift fence trap in the woods, I came across what seems to be a chunk of wood, about two feet underground, that had totally…turned to jelly. I don’t know how else to describe it. I could still see the grain of the wood, with fibers running through it, but the texture was somewhere in between Vaseline and raw fish.
This was a few hundred feet from a river, in high-clay soil. Can anyone tell me what kind of process might have caused this? I’ve never seen anything like it!
The wood is undergoing decomposition. As decompsers (fungi, bacteria, etc.) break down the plant cell walls (cellulose), the liquidy interior of the cells leaks out. Normally, the wood would dry out and crumble as it loses the structure provided by the cellulose. If it were buried in saturated clay with no means of drying out, that cellular liquid (cytoplasm) won’t go anywhere. I can imagine the result would be the gelatinous texture you describe.
In selectively delignified wood there are often pockets of clear, gelatinous remnants of the wood. Armillaria species in particular often cause these gelatinous pockets. This may become colonized by yeast and may contain alcohol.