Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Dodder on the prairie

with 24 comments

On the Blackland Prairie in Pflugerville on April 30th I stopped in several places to photograph dodder (Cuscuta spp.), a parasitic plant that sucks the life out of other plants. Victims in the downward-looking photograph above include square-bud primroses (Calylophus berlandieri), firewheels (Gaillardia pulchella), and antelope-horns milkweed (Asclepias asperula). Here’s a much closer view from the side showing dodder attacking a square-bud primrose:

Parasites repel people, and that’s understandable, but dodder’s yellow-orange-angelhair-pasta-like tangles offer a visual complexity it’s hard for a nature photographer—at least this one—to pass up.

If you want to know more, come read an article of mine about dodder that the Native Plant Society of Texas just published.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 24, 2017 at 4:55 AM

24 Responses

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  1. I really enjoyed your write-up for the Native Plants group. I laughed out loud at the maiden and the rooster story…the modern-day adapted one in particular. Didn’t know anything about dodder, so learned a bit in the process. ‘Tendrils’ make plants seem more sinister. They may not have legs to move, but some species have adapted quite well.


    May 24, 2017 at 6:33 AM

    • I remember spotting a few big tangles of dodder along I-45 between Houston and Galveston some years ago, so now that you’re aware of these plants I bet you’ll see some before long.

      Yeah, that’s quite a “remedy” provided by the maiden and the rooster. I have to wonder whether the compiler of the Geoponica took it seriously or was trying to get away with something and have a little fun.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 24, 2017 at 7:13 AM

      • On the article, I’m betting on the fun part. 😀


        May 24, 2017 at 7:25 AM

        • We have to wonder whether anyone ever tried out that remedy. Maybe somebody could get a grant to test the method’s efficacy. Grants have been given out for some pretty strange things, so why not for this?

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 24, 2017 at 7:36 AM

  2. The primroses are so golden and bright, this might well be titled “Mother Nature’s Sun and Dodder.”


    May 24, 2017 at 6:42 AM

    • That’s a good one, made even better for many Americans by the movement of the traditional vowel in raw to that in rah. Even though I’ve been in Texas 40 years, my New York raw vowel hasn’t budged, so for me no daughter will ever be heard to dodder.

      One vernacular name for Calylophus berlandieri is sundrops.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 24, 2017 at 7:02 AM

  3. Ooooo, I am so not liking dodder! Jenny


    May 24, 2017 at 7:32 AM

  4. Lovely shots! Never heard about there before… so interesting.


    May 24, 2017 at 2:46 PM

  5. Dodder is a new one for me – perhaps it’s been underfoot or nearby, but I just looked beyond it. The Native Plant Society article was very interesting.. Thanks for the double dose of dodder!

  6. Hi Steve! I love the folklore you mention in the NPSOT article. The cultural value the Old South has assigned this plant is so unique! Love vine! The dodder’s mad evolutionary skill has made many a Southern heart hopeful.

    Malanie's Environmental Blog

    May 25, 2017 at 6:09 AM

    • Hello, Melanie. Yes, there’s plenty of folklore about dodder, probably more than I’ve encountered about other plants. I like the way you worded your last sentence.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 25, 2017 at 7:35 AM

  7. […] you heard and saw last time, on the Blackland Prairie in Pflugerville on April 30th I stopped to photograph some dodder (Cuscuta spp.). In one place a small snail had climbed up on a plant that the dodder was attacking. […]

  8. Yuk, a parasitic horror! And it’s not like plants can move out of its way ..


    May 28, 2017 at 2:37 PM

  9. Thank you Steve Schwartzman for sharing these beautiful patterns (may be only for our eyes but not for host plants) of dodder. Your post encourage me to know more about dodders. My Query is that did you ever notice dodders affecting crops and plants related to farming?


    July 24, 2017 at 5:35 AM

    • You make a good point about preyed-upon plants not appreciating their predators’ patterns the way we can afford to—unless we’re farmers. While I don’t have any first-hand experience with dodder and agriculture, I did some searching just now and at


      I found the following:

      “Although there are several species of dodder distributed throughout North America, the most common species in Western United States are largeseed dodder (C. indecora) and field dodder (C. campestris). These species have become a major economic concern in alfalfa, clover, tomatoes, and potatoes. Dodder infestations reduce crop yield and increase harvesting costs. The damage of dodder to the host plant varies from moderate to severe depending on the growth of the host plant and on the number of haustoria attachments to the host plant.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 24, 2017 at 6:43 AM

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