Dodder

Cuscuta genus

(includes Cuscata rostrata, Cuscata indecor, and Cuscata campestris)

Mark Moran

Dodder is a parasitic plant. This means that it lives off of other plants. In fact, Dodder cannot live on its own.

There are many different species of Dodder, and they can be very difficult to tell apart. Dodder also has many nicknames, including Love Vine, Witches' Shoelaces, Hairweed, and Devilguts.

Dodder is almost always yellowish-orange and looks a lot like spaghetti.

Dodder is most often seen in marshes, roadsides, fields, and thickets.

Copyright, Daniel Nickrent

Dodder has no leaves, and it only has roots in the very beginning of its life.

This plant grows from seed and sprouts from the ground like any other plant. It immediately reaches its stem, looking for a host plant to latch onto. The Dodder seedling can survive for about 10 days. If it doesn't attach to a host plant in this time, it will die.

Once the Dodder seedling finds a host plant, it quickly twines itself around the plant's stem. Dodder always twines in a counter-clockwise direction. Next, Dodder will lose its connection to the ground. It now totally depends upon its host.

The way Dodder survives is by little bumps on its stem, called "haustoria." Since Dodder wraps so tightly around its host, the haustoria are pressed up agains the host plant's stem. They will then actually push their way into the stem. Through its haustoria, Dodder can pull nutrients that it needs to survive from the host plant. Dodder rarely kills its host plant, although it will stunt its growth.

Since Dodder has no chlorophyll (also what makes plants green), it cannot make its own food like most plants.

Copyright 2001, Collin Purrington

Copyright 2001, Collin Purrington

The picture on the far left shows a tightly wrapped Dodder stem on a host plant.

The picture on the near left shows a cross section of a host plant stem. You can see the Dodder's haustoria pushing their way into the host plant.

Mark Moran

Some species of Dodder are host-specific. This means that a particular species of Dodder only grows on a particular species of host plant. However, most Dodder species grow on several different types of plants.

Some known host plants of Dodder include: Spotted Jewelweed, goldenrods, Black Locust, blackberries, Lizard's Tail, English Ivy, Virginia Creeper, Trumpet Creeper, Wild Onion, and clovers.

Dodder may actually help other plants, by controlling the growth of fast-spreading plants such as Virginia Creeper, Lizard's Tail, and English Ivy. These plants often crowd out others.

Dodder is an annual, which means it dies when the weather gets cold. Sometimes, when plants die in the Winter, haustoria can stay alive inside a host plant. Then, when the weather gets warm again, they can grow new plants, already attached to a host. Otherwise, Dodder must grow from seeds dropped from last year's plants.

Bill Dunn, Huntley Meadows Park

Dodder has tiny bell-shaped, white flowers which bloom from June to October. After the flowers are gone, small fruit grow. Dodder fruits are small (about 1/8 inch wide) and have one to four seeds inside. The skin of the fruits is paper thin and breaks easily, spilling the seeds where they can grow in a "neighborhood" with a lot of host plants.

Copyright, Ken Robertson

Additional Media

Description
Type
Credit
White-tailed Deer Eating Dodder
Video
Phil Heine
Download Quicktime if you are unable to play video.

Relationships in Nature:

Animals Using as Food Source

Animals Using as Shelter

Associations With Other Plants

OTHER

White-tailed Deer

Black and Yellow Argiope

Virginia Creeper

Virginia Creeper H

Fiery Searcher

Evergreen Blackberry

Evergreen Blackberry H

Five-lined Skink

Spotted Jewelweed

Spotted Jewelweed H

American Toad

Trumpet Creeper

Trumpet Creeper H

Bullfrog

Goldenrod

Goldenrod H

Northern Water Snake

Red Clover

Red Clover H

Common Snapping Turtle

Black Locust

Black Locust H

Differential Grasshopper

Lizard's Tail

Lizard's Tail H

White-footed Mouse

Bushy Aster

Six-spotted Fishing Spider

Norway Rat

Relationship to Humans:

Dodder can be a nuisance or it can be very helpful. For instance, Spotted Jewelweed and Evergreen Blackberry are usually considered to be good plants to have around, because of their beauty, their fruit, and their ability to attract wildlife. When Dodder becomes a parasite of these plants, it stunts their growth. On the other hand, Dodder also parasitizes "weed" plants, such as English Ivy, Wild Onion, and clovers. In this case, Dodder helps control these plants. Some people find the bright orange "spaghetti" to be beautiful, others find it ugly.

SCIENTIFIC CLASSIFICATION

KINGDOM
Plant
DIVISION
Magnoliophyta
CLASS
Magnoliopsida
ORDER
Solanales
FAMILY
Convolvulaceae
GENUS
Cuscata
SPECIES
many species; some listed above

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