En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Monday - May 29, 2006

From: Nevada City, CA
Region: California
Topic: Plant Identification
Title: Dodder, rootless, leafless, parisitic twining plants
Answered by: Joe Marcus and Dean Garrett


Hello, I have been studying wildflowers in California for many years. Yesterday I came across a surprise and I am thus far unable to identify it. As it is raining today, I cannot get a photo, but I will attempt to be descriptive. It is a pink/purple/magenta color, with a top similar to an allium. It has a stem approx 3 ft long, no root, no leaf, and it wraps itself about other host plants as if a morning glory or bindweed. It is very serpentine in that way. The most amazing thing is that it is as if it is an air plant, with no root. There are about 8 of them growing in my meadow around an oak bush and some general weeds and grasses. Do you have a clue as to what this specimen is? I would be happy to send a photo if I hear from you.


It is likely that the mystery plant is a species of dodder (Cuscuta), rootless, leafless twining plants that parasitize the vascular systems of other plants. They used to be placed in the morning glory family (Convolvulaceae) but are currently classified in their own family, the Cuscutaceae. There are dozens of species in North America, some native, some not, and several grow wild in California. I assume the colors you mention refer to the twining stems, which can range from a straw color to orange or pink/magenta. The flowers are usually white or pinkish white, but they can also be the same color as the stems. From a distance, the flowers' size and shape can give the impression of wild Allium blossoms. Because dodders invade the circulatory systems of their host plants, many of them are considered harmful and invasive. I've seen large areas covered in their straw-colored, leafless stems, making the site look like a jumble of spaghetti.

More Plant Identification Questions

Plant Identification
April 16, 2009 - I have a vine in my flowerbed that has three leaves and thorns and it looks like poison ivy. How can I tell if it is?
view the full question and answer

Identification of spiky red berry in Connecticut
September 25, 2011 - I found an odd berry outside of my school, none of the science teachers know what it is though. It kind of looks like a spiked cherry. It has spikes on the outside, a pit on the insde, and has pinkish...
view the full question and answer

Texas wildflower guide with every flower listed
November 09, 2012 - Is there a Texas wildflower guide that contains every single flower that grows in the state? I have a few flowers on my land I haven't been able to identify because they aren't in the guide I have. ...
view the full question and answer

Tall plant with bell-shaped upside-down white flowers
July 18, 2014 - 2 tall plants grew outside my suburban New York house in June, blossomed late June. They looked like giant asparagus stalks, and the flowers were white, bell shaped, upside down, look like fairy skirt...
view the full question and answer

Plant Identification
June 03, 2009 - We have a new vine growing on our fence. It eventually gets red balls (about 1" in dia) that are filled with small white seeds. Before the balls turn red, they are covered with a fine, thin fern (f...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center