By Philip Evich
Jun 6 2019
Meet the genus Cuscuta, or as I like to refer to them, the Mad Dodder. I got entangled with this yellow plant while imaging specimens of the family Cuscutaceae, which is now classified as part of the morning glory family, Convolvulaceae. This plant, although having little to no green parts, can be found all over the world with its most dense populations right here in North America.
But don’t plants need to be green to make food from the sun?
Lacking chlorophyll, or the cells responsible for photosynthesis, Cuscuta species have evolved by living off other plants as a parasite! These plants make flowers which spread their seeds all over. Once the seed has germinated, the dodder looks for an appropriate host, which may be species specific. Luckily, not all plants are susceptible to an attack from dodder. But, to the ones without resistance, beware!
Upon finding its host, the dodder will disconnect itself from its roots and insert haustoria into the tissue of its host, to absorb its nutrients from its vascular system. This relationship is not mutual. As a dodder plant grows and expands over its host, it wraps and winds itself over any and all surface area until it has subsequently strangled and killed it.
Cuscuta species are an aggressive, noxious, annual weed and pose threats to agriculture and horticulture each year by attacking alfalfa, lespedeza, flax, clover, potatoes, chrysanthemum, dahlia, helenium, trumpet vine, ivy, and petunias.