Dodder Vine

Dodder: It's Alive!

Old folk names include devil’s guts, devil’s hair, devil’s ringlet, goldthread, hailweed, hairweed, hellbine, love vine, pull-down, strangleweed, angel hair, and witch’s hair, and witches shoelaces–according to wikipedia.

As it is not your typical showy wildflower, I don’t think I have ever photographed it before now, though I first observed it during my systematic botany days in Auburn in the early 70s.

I have known it as dodder vine, and found it notable for its unusual plant lifestyle: it contains almost no chlorophyll and does not need it. It’s food comes from a host plant.

That this plant is parasitic is something I knew. I did not know, however, how clever it was in sensing out its optimal host. This PBS time-lapse of dodder’s tendrils (you see here in orange coils) is informative and amazing. Strangleweed, indeed!

And looking closely at this specimen on the Parkway last week, you can easily see the “haustoria”–the feeding growths that derive from the vine and grow into the vascular tissue of the plants that become the support and food source.

And once this happens, the original roots on the dodder sprout disappear, and the entire plant grows unconnected to the ground, sometimes high into the canopy of small trees. Or field crops. You can imagine that this flowering plant is not popular among farmers who already have enough to contend with in the insects, blights and weeds that vie for their cash crops.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. What an interesting plant. Needless to say I had never seen it but it really is quite beautiful. Does it serve any purpose? You do amaze me– in so many ways and I am Soooo proud of you. And you’re a good iPad doctor too!!

  2. Is that cassytha filiformis? We have it down here, too – it is a real problem in some areas. It likes to get up in oak trees and it will eventually kill them. The only solution I know of is to manually rip it out.