Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

D. D.

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Dense Dodder on Annual Sumpweed 1811

The D.D. in the title stands for dense dodder, but you don’t have to be dense to wonder what sort of strange thing dodder is: it’s the common name for any of various species that make up the genus Cuscuta in the morning-glory family. Like better-known morning-glories, dodder is a vine, but unlike its family-mates dodder is parasitic, and that difference until recently had botanists putting dodder into a family of its own, Cuscutaceae. Dodder’s parasitic nature explains why the only greenery you see close to the ground in these tangled mounds of yellow-orange capellini (angel-hair pasta) belongs to the plants being parasitized, in this case annual sumpweed, Iva annua.

I found and photographed these plants two days ago at Meadow Lake Park on the Blackland Prairie in eastern Round Rock, where from inside my car I spotted the conspicuous dodder tangles hundreds of feet away and waded through a sea of sumpweed to take this and various other pictures.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 25, 2015 at 5:21 AM

13 Responses

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  1. Just about the time you were photographing these plants, a blog friend posted a photo of the dodder she found in her area of Illinois. One thing she mentioned that I’d never heard is that Native Americans called dodder the “devil’s shoelaces”, and used burlap sacks filled with crushed plants to stun fish for easier capture.

    I was going to stop at a large patch of it I pass every day to see if I could find it blooming, but when I looked yesterday, it had disappeared. Since it was growing along abandoned railroad tracks, I can’t imagine the city crews going after it, but those crews are unpredictable.

    I like the way the image suggests the coloring-mixing rule we all learned with our finger paints: that yellow and blue combine to create green. And, given the effort you had to put into taking the photo, it’s a good thing you’re far from being a doddering old photographer.


    August 25, 2015 at 7:20 AM

    • I’m glad you took advantage of the opening I’d left to play around with dodder the noun and dodder the verb; I’d toyed with playing around with that pair myself, but I let the idea go. While I’m not yet a doddering old photographer, I have been known to go tottering while hauling around a camera bag weighing 14 lbs., especially on a slope. In this case the sumpweed was a couple of feet tall, and there was a lot of it, so I took the precaution of putting on my thigh-high boots as some extra protection against chiggers. (On a visit to the same site (and sight) some years ago the ground was marshy, so boots would have helped with that as well, but we’re currently back to drought and I found the ground completely dry on Sunday.)

      I’ve read about the “devil’s shoelaces,” but I’m leery in accepting the notion that that’s what Indians called it. Perhaps they did, but in other cases Anglos have attributed things to Indians that were actually their own. That’s what happens when one culture interprets another, especially one that’s quite alien.

      I’m sorry your would-be dodder didn’t materialize, but I’m glad I found so much in Round Rock.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 25, 2015 at 8:35 AM

  2. Every so often we see explosions of Dodder at Illinois Beach State Park. I’ve drawn 2 species so far. It fascinates me, the different ways a plant can make a living. We also have Aureolaria pedicularia, which is semi-parasitic on Black Oaks.


    August 25, 2015 at 9:06 AM

  3. Fascinating bit of info, this was all new to me. I really enjoy learning about the plants that abound in our world.

    Charlie@Seattle Trekker

    August 26, 2015 at 12:49 AM

  4. When I first saw this I thought you were showing us some discarded shredded wood excelsior. I’ve heard of dodder…but in reference to us slightly aged old men…which I see Linda mentioned above.

    Steve Gingold

    August 26, 2015 at 4:56 AM

    • When I first came across the word I had the same association with it as well, and that was 16 years ago, so my own age wasn’t a factor.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 26, 2015 at 7:35 AM

  5. […] the same August 23rd outing to Meadow Lake Park in Round Rock that led me to the D.D., or dense dodder, I photographed this H.H, or handsome heron, flying low over the lake. My subject appears to be the […]

  6. I went back to see if my first ever dodder had bloomed, but it was dead. My you have a lot of it alive and well.


    August 28, 2015 at 10:49 AM

    • This park has the most expansive dodder of any place I know in the Austin area. I first found dodder at the site a few years ago and I was glad to see there’s even more now than then. I’m sorry yours didn’t survive.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 28, 2015 at 1:05 PM

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