Looks like an introduced species of the parasitic vine known as dodder is making a big splash on the west coast of the U.S. Over the past couple of weeks there have been various news blurbs about the spread of Japanese dodder (Cuscuta japonica) through California. According to this report from the Sacramento Bee, the species has now been found at more than 40 sites in Sacramento County, thanks to the efforts of the county's residents. In the midst of the surveys, officials discovered something significant: people from Native American and Chinese cultures have been cultivating the plant for its herbal properties. While it is certainly helpful to have identified a vector of transport for this invader, the surprising news that this chlorophyll-free, odd-looking species is being cultivated indicates that ridding the state of California of this species would be no easy task.
Bonus points to the Bee for printing the scientific name of the plant.
Update: Monique points to a group of excellent photos of Japanese dodder infestations. This plant is scary! Also, check out this post about less scary dodder species from Niches (and this post as well).