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

Identity of very tall plants in Austin, TX
August 13, 2012 - I have these huge tall plants. They don't seem to want to bloom and they are shading out my other natives. They get very tall. 10 feet or so. What is it?
view the full question and answer

Wild native trees with orange blooms
March 30, 2012 - What is the wild native tree that is blooming orange blooms - as you drive down the road thru Chappel Hill, and Brenham area. I've never seen these before when we went viewing bluebonnets - however,...
view the full question and answer

Need Plant Identification from Bon Aqua, Tennessee?
September 01, 2010 - By a creek, I found a plant that I have never seen in my life. It has a tall stalk and has leaves like a weed or grass, and the flower looks like a pine tree. The plant looks like a mix of a grass, a...
view the full question and answer

Identification of tree bought from a magazine ad
August 11, 2013 - I recently submitted the following question to Ask An Expert. They were unable to identify the plant. I hope you will be able to. Can you help me by either identifying this plant or advising me a...
view the full question and answer

Question about dwarf oyster plant, Tradescantia spathacea
June 12, 2009 - I sm looking for Dwarf Oyster plant like the one described about 3-4 inches in height, color green and purple. But the nurseries here in Clearwater FL don't seem to know what I am talking about. S...
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
© 2014 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center