Leave that Dodder alone

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.

Dodder (Cuscuta californica) on a Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum), Rancho Bernardo, California.
Dodder (Cuscuta californica) on a Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum), Rancho Bernardo, California.

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.)

Sage scrub hillside with Cuscuta californica (Chaparral Dodder, Devil's Hair) growing on multiple plants; Rancho Bernardo, California.
Sage scrub hillside with Cuscuta californica (Chaparral Dodder, Devil’s Hair) growing on multiple plants; Rancho Bernardo, California.

Thanks for reading. Please help spread the word: leave that Dodder alone.


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10 thoughts on “Leave that Dodder alone”

  1. In my area of New Jersey, the local conservationist have taken to clearing patches of land full of of invasive plants. Often this involves remove the native plant as well. Once the area is clear, it is replanted with whatever native plants once occupied the area.

    Reply
    • There are some areas here where the invasives are so massive that removing everything and then controlling the invasives as they try to grow back might be the better option too.

      Reply
      • Alex is correct….while it works for some species, it hasn’t worked attempting to remove the invasive mustard (i.e.; San Dieguito River Park test project on Bernardo Mountain). Just like kudzu has taken over the South, we’re probably stuck with mustard in the Southwest.

        Reply
        • TM Schultze – “it hasn’t worked attempting to remove the invasive mustard (i.e.; San Dieguito River Park test project on Bernardo Mountain). Just like kudzu has taken over the South, we’re probably stuck with mustard in the Southwest.”
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          And yet it does NOT have to be that way. I’ve successfully gotten rid small interior valley hills of cheatgrass, Wild Mustard & Wild Radish. The problem with most of those restoration attempts by well meaning volunteer groups at eradication is that as with most things human, they deal only with what they see with the naked eye. Dislike Wild Mustard, well then pull wild Mustard, spray wild Mustard with science-based synthetic herbicides and Voila, it’s gone. Except it comes back with a vengeance all over again. Why ??? Because they never considered the microbiological damage the Mustard caused under the ground. Not only do you remove the mustard, but you replace the myccorrhizal fungi in the doil and plant native host plants which will help it spread. But then there is that problem of the right species of mycorrhizae and that’s another thing that even the experts or manufacturers never consider. Any company’s inoculum is should never be viewed as magic dust which will correct everything. It’s not. The problem is the leaders of these non-profits need to educate themselves first, then teach their people (followers) the basic fundamentals before attempting a restoration project. I actually wrote about this very thing in my last post, which I will not post on Alex’s photography blog. But just keep in mind the underground has to also be considered before you see results.

          Reply
  2. Interesting and good of you to try and educate those not familiar with Dodder and how it works. We have Dodder in Kansas as well. I became acquainted with it while being out at Konza Prairie.

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  3. Dodder is peculiar, and I can see why someone might think they should pull it off, but I agree, mustard’s really a problem! I like the way the dodder sort of undulates through your photo…here’s to more dodder and less mustard!

    Reply

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