Cuscuta on Creosote

June 02, 2016



Photographer: Dave Lynch
Summary AuthorDave Lynch  

Shown above is a shockingly bright, orange tangled mass clinging to a creosote plant. Called Cuscuta (also called dodder), it’s a parasitic plant, a member of the Morning Glory family. As many as 170 species of dodder are known worldwide. Although it can germinate on a plant, it usually begins growing in the soil, but once attached to a plant, its roots die. Cuscuta cannot live on its own because it lacks photosynthetic capability. As it grows, its hair-like vines wrap themselves around its host’s stems, always in a counterclockwise direction. Cuscuta’s leaves have evolved to be little more than tiny scales on the vine. These scales contain structures (haustoria) that penetrate the host and draw nutrients from it.  Although dodder can be beneficial by controlling the growth of certain plants, it’s generally considered a pest and can devastate crops like alfalfa, lespedeza, flax, clover and potatoes. Cuscuta seldom kills its host but can weaken it, making it susceptible to other diseases or harsh weather. To the casual eye, however, dodder is a curious and striking plant whose chaotic weave has a certain creepy appeal. Photo taken Feb 8, 2016, in Panamint Valley, California.