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?

Share

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

QUESTION:

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.

ANSWER:

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

Identification of plant growing in Plumbago
August 01, 2007 - Help - I have a strange looking plant that recently shot up in a potted Plumbago. I planted the Plumbago in its pot with Miracle Gro potting soil, and have been fertilizing with Miracle Gro as well. ...
view the full question and answer

How to tell the difference between native and non-native thistles
March 13, 2013 - It's thistle time already. There are many plants in the aster family with thistle in their common name. Are "real" thistles only those in the genus Cirsium, or are there others as well? We are tryi...
view the full question and answer

Plant identification from Alpharetta GA
September 28, 2009 - I found a thorny bush in a yard. It had either immature fruit or a seed pod that I would like identified. The pod was a little larger than a golf ball, yellow, and a little fuzzy. When cut open it ...
view the full question and answer

Identification of tree with strawberry-like fruit in North Carolina
September 24, 2011 - While visiting Boone, North Carolina we walked the Greenway in town. There were a few trees with a round red fruit similar to a strawberry. They were about the size of a penny and a dull red color dot...
view the full question and answer

Smoketree not flowering in Beverly Hills CA
June 29, 2011 - Why is my Smoke tree not flowering? It is big and the leaves are beautiful but no blooms.
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.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP | STAFF
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center