Dodder

One interesting plant found in Florida is the Golden Dodder, Cuscuta pentagona.  It is a parasitic plant that twines right handedly around the stem of its victim.  It rarely photosynthesizes for food, in fact some species cannot even make chlorophyll.  It sends root-like fingers called haustoria into the host and lives off the juices.  It can become so severe, the host does very poorly and dies.  Ususally parasites do not kill their host because it will put them out of business too.  Dodder is a seasonal plant that dies off in very cold weather, so they usually do not have time to kill their host in a season.  The severe cases I have seen in Florida must be multiple year infestations and the mild winters are not killing the dodder off as much. 

Dodder look like yellow spaghetti except for the flowers.  They are a flowering plant, and as such they produce seeds.  The seeds are long-lived in the soil and will germinate for years after an infestation has been cleared.  The seeds are an important weed seed that seed producers are always on the look out for.  It is a bad plant to come along with, for example, grass seed.  The customers would not want to get dodder from a contaminated batch of seed. 

I have only seen dodder in Michigan on rare occasions.  The type in our northern midwest has always been in Alfalfa.  I believe these pictures are of a different species, however none of it was flowering, so not sure. 

 The only cure for it is to remove or prune out the dodder from the host plant.  The haustoria can give rise to new infestations in the host if just a little bit is left.

In a bizzarre twist, so to speak, in Wiki, there is a bit about dodder being able to smell.  They say that some research has shown it grows toward pheromones emitted from possible host plants.  None of the dodder that I saw was sniffing around but here are some photos of a big mess.

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