Contact Us Host an Event Volunteer Join

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

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

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

Lookink for bulbs of German Blue Bells in Weatherford, TX.
July 09, 2012 - I am searching for a plant that is called "German Blue Bells". They are tubular as seed. Like tiny iris only bands around the tubular. The flower looks like a morning glory with an off set bloom....
view the full question and answer

Identity of plant that looks like green onions
April 06, 2013 - I have what looks like green onions growing in my lawn. They have small white flowers. Are they edible?
view the full question and answer

Identification of a tree at David Crockett Cabin Museum in Tennessee
October 22, 2012 - I was in Lawrenceburg TN and stopped by the David Crockett Cabin Museum. There was a tree and it dropped lemon sized balls on the ground. What kind of tree is it?
view the full question and answer

Identification of plants seen at Disneyworld
May 11, 2007 - I was hoping for the answer to a certain plant that i have been trying figure out the name of and where i might be able to purchase this particular plant. I have seen it in the Bahamas, Hawaii, and re...
view the full question and answer

Plant identification
August 14, 2009 - I am trying to identify a plant I saw this past weekend in San Diego, California. It was a low growing shrub planted along the road near a beach. The flowers looked like large star jasmine, leaves wer...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.