On a recent walk at one of our local trails, I saw that someone had attempted to pull Dodder (Cuscuta californica) from some Buckwheat bushes it was growing on. Now Dodder is a parasitic plant and I get it – from the looks of it, one might think that it “strangles” or suffocates its host plant. But that isn’t the case.
Pulling dodder from its host actually doesn’t help – Dodder grows so-called haustoria into its host. We might describe it as the “roots” that a parasitic plant grows into its host to access the host’s nutrition. Removing Dodder doesn’t remove the haustoria. Only rigorous pruning of the plant would help – but that isn’t necessary in the chaparral and sage scrub. Dodder rarely kills its host – and why would it? It relies on the host’s nutrition because it has no roots on its own.
Right along the Buckwheat bushes with the Dodder, the trail is seamed with dense and tall invasive mustard (Brassica nigra and/or Hirschfeldia incana) of course – and whoever thought that the Buckwheat needs to be saved from the Dodder didn’t know that the invasive mustard is the far bigger problem!
Trying to remove the Dodder is just another misguided attempt in helping nature when it doesn’t need our help – because we judge too fast and make the wrong assumptions. Dodder has been around for as long as the landscapes in their appearance that we call chaparral and sage scrub exist, and it is the host plant for some butterflies and moths itself.
Here’s a beautiful hillside with open sage scrub in spring, dotted with Dodder growing on some of the shrubs. The combination of green and orange has the flair of the 70ies, doesn’t it? ;-) (and the dots of purple are Showy Penstemon.)
Thanks for reading. Please help spread the word: leave that Dodder alone.