Monday, July 17, 2006

Dodders of the Revolution

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).


Wayne said...

I've found dodder interesting for all kinds of reasons, and realize there are several non-natives. We've found several native species and have been struck by the USDA Plants labels of a couple of these being tagged as threatened/endangered and at the same time as "noxious". Interesting.

Monique Reed, Texas A&M said...

We discovered this same problem species in Houston a few years ago, and for the same reason. Japanese dodder is *huge* compared to other species, and it is capable of killing large trees in a short period of time. Cutting down and burning the host is about the only way to get rid of an infestation. The seeds can remain viable in the soil for decades. An infestation at Duke or Clemson was only wiped out when the soil was heat-sterilized with a tractor-drawn flamethrower (the seeds must be heated enough to pop like popcorn, or they are just scarified.) Since this is a cultivated plant, a massive public education campaign as to why it is dangerous is necessary-- in multiple languages. Images can be seen by going to this address and searching for cuscuta japonica:

Jenn said...

Holy cow, those are some spectacular photos! Thanks for the link Monique.

Wayne, I can't believe you didn't leave a link to your dodder posts. Adding as well...

Monique Reed said...

Haiku by Japanese Dodder:

Cuscuta. Dodder.
Green alien spaghetti
I will eat your trees

Jenn said...


My retort:

C. japonica
Parasite I do not know
And hope not to meet.