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Mr. Smarty Plants - Plant identification, Cuscuta sp., Dodder

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Tuesday - August 18, 2009

From: Palo Pinto, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Invasive Plants
Title: Plant identification, Cuscuta sp., Dodder
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

A neighbor of mine has a vine with no leaves that is attaching itself to her flowering plants. It is yellow in color, just larger than fishing line and has no leaves. It corkscrews itself around the plant and then it seems to almost tie a knot in itself and then on to another plant. We would like to know what it is and how to eliminate it. Thank you from Palo Pinto, Texas

ANSWER:

This is a dodder (Cuscuta sp.) and is a parasitic flowering plant.  It grows from a seed and after it has emerged it must search for a host or it will die since it has no chlorophyll for producing its own food.  Once it finds a host it attaches itself to its plant host via rootlike structures called haustoria. These allow the dodder to extract nutrients and water from its host.  After the dodder is connected to its host it loses contact with ground get all its nutrients and water from the host.  The host plant doesn't usually die but it can be weakened.  You can read an interesting discussion of dodders from Collin Purrington, a researcher at Swarthmore College.  Here are some native dodders that are known to occur near Palo Pinto County:

Cuscuata indecora (Bigseed alfalfa dodder)

Cuscuta pentagona (fiveangled dodder)

You can see distribution maps for other dodders that occur in Texas and the US, both native and introduced, in the USDA Plants Database

The two introduced dodders that have been found in Texas are Cuscuta japonica (Japanese dodder) and C. suaveolens (fringed dodder)C. japonica (also known by the common name, giant Asian dodder) has been identified as being a serious invasive pest in the Houston area and is listed as a Federal Noxious Weed.  You can read recommendations for eradication strategies for this dodder from Texas Invasives.org.  There is no way I can identify for certain which of the Cuscuta sp. your neighbor has without seeing photos of it, but these eradication methods should work for any Cuscuta sp.

 

 

 

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