August Flora Spotlight:

Cuscuta spp

Most summers in the Sycamore Meadow a strange plant called Dodder makes its appearance. 

Dodder is a parasitic plant; it lives off other plants and cannot live on its own. There are many types of species and are often difficult to tell apart. Common nick names include Witches’ Shoelaces, Hairweed, Devil’s-guts and Love Vine. Dodder looks like yellow/orange spaghetti that has been thrown all over a plant. Some of its favorite places to grow are in marches, along roadsides, thickets and fields.

Dodder has no leaves and only has roots as it begins life. Seeds sprout from the ground in spring like any other plant. It immediately has to find a host plant to latch on to. If it does not attach itself to a host in ten days, it dies. 
Once it finds a host Dodder twines itself in a counter-clockwise direction tightly around the stem of the plant. Dodder will then lose its connection to the ground and be totally dependent on its host. Dodder survives by little bumps on its stem that it presses into its host's stem and pulls out nutrients that it needs to survive. Dodder rarely kills its host plant ,but sometimes the plant can be stunted. 

Dodder has tiny white bell-shaped flowers that bloom from June to October. A tiny fruit appears after the flower is gone that contains one to four seeds. The skin of the fruit is paper thin that breaks easily sending the seeds to the ground to wait out the winter and sprout in the spring. The seeds can remain dormant in the soil for up to 20 years.

Dodder can be a noxious weed in the agriculture and nursery trade. It is included in the US Department of Agriculture’s list of the 10 most problematic weeds in our country. Dodder can also be the vector of plant diseases. It can pick up systemic diseases, to which it is immune, from host plants and pass them along to other host plants it encounters. It is very difficult to eradicate once it becomes established in an area. Herbicides that could kill it will also kill the host plant it is growing on. 

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