Dodder is too bizarre for words.
This plant doesn’t even look like a plant. It looks more like a fungi, or an alien!
Thin yellow, red, or bright orange threads emerge from the ground and start twining around and draping over everything in sight. Everything, that is, if you’re a plant. Dodder (Cuscuta) is a parasitic annual. It gets most of its nutrition by inserting a straw-like structure, called the haustoria, into the plants it covers. Some species of dodder can perform a limited amount of photosynthesis.
The dodder plant
If you look closely, you can see that dodder seedlings are rootless, leafless stems. As the dodder plant matures, it may produce small, triangular leaves that look like scales. Tiny, bell-shaped, cream, pink, or yellow flowers may also be seen, but it is the extensive web of threads that will really catch your eye!
Dodder in the garden
You will probably never see dodder in your garden or landscape, but it’s possible. Different dodder plants may attack marjoram, tomatoes, beets, melons, or asparagus plants from mid-summer through early autumn.
Getting rid of dodder is problematic. If you find it in your garden, ask for help from your local Master Gardeners. If you discover Japanese dodder ANYWHERE, contact your county agricultural commissioner. This new invasive is under a statewide eradication program.
DODDER UPDATE (1/8/2018)
A recent study conducted by Virginia Tech and Penn State have demonstrated that we are not the only ones involved with genetic modifications. Our instinctive outcry against GMOs may be a little outdated when we learn that plants, such as dodder, have been altering the DNA of their host plants for countless centuries. As dodder twines around a host and begins feeding, it inserts genetic information, in the form of microRNAs (miRNAs) and small interfering RNAs (siRNAs), that halt the activation of protective gene sequences. These alterations in the host's DNA make it harder for it to protect itself and improves conditions for the dodder invasion. If that weren’t strange enough, it ends up that plants have been using genetic modification to fight off nematodes, fungi, bacteria, and insects for a really long time.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!