Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Maximilian sunflower plants subdued

with 35 comments

As much as we love to see the bright yellow of Maximilian sunflowers (Helianthus maximiliani) in the fall, something else loves those plants, too, although not in a benign way. That something is dodder (Cuscuta sp.), a parasitic vine whose densely twining yellow-orange strands people have often likened to a tangle of angel hair pasta (also known as capellini), which is the slenderest type. The second photograph shows you that this vine’s tiny white flowers sometimes rival the strands’ density.

I took these pictures and hundreds more at the Wildhorse Ranch subdivision in Manor on October 4th.

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I recommend Bari Weiss’s latest essay, “Some Thoughts About Courage.”
It includes links to plenty of other worthy articles.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 22, 2021 at 4:35 AM

35 Responses

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  1. That reminds me of the straw mattress filling back in the day. The apparent vigor of dodder’s growth gives one the impression that it isn’t doddering.

    Steve Gingold

    October 22, 2021 at 4:50 AM

    • Not doddering, indeed. When I first learned about dodder a couple of decades ago, I wondered if its name was the same word as the verb meaning ‘to progress feebly.’ Apparently there’s no connection. So much the better for making a play on words, as you did.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 22, 2021 at 5:07 AM

  2. Parasitic Pasta Picnic. I’m glad you mentioned capellini, I’d hate to think I was the only one who immediately saw this as food, maybe an accident outside a spaghetti factory.

    Robert Parker

    October 22, 2021 at 5:23 AM

    • Your final words reminded me that after Marcel Duchamp’s painting “Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2)” was first exhibited, one art critic derisively described it as an explosion in a shingle factory. Or at least many people claim that that’s what an art critic said. After searching a bit just now, I couldn’t turn up the name of the supposed critic.

      As for food, you’ve got me wondering whether any animals eat dodder, or whether any other kinds of parasitic plants attack it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 22, 2021 at 5:37 AM

      • I read a couple of online articles, one indicated people can eat the stuff, but it’s kind of problematical if gathered in the wild, because it can absorb toxins from the plants it victimizes. So then I wondered how farmers control it, and apparently the answer is, not easily. The California Coop. Ext. had an article discussing burning off infested fields of alfalfa with propane burners, followed by gallons of herbicide. Only 10% of seeds germinate the first year they’re on the ground, and the seeds can remain viable for many years. What a pest!

        Robert Parker

        October 22, 2021 at 6:18 AM

        • Regarding the ways of getting rid of dodder, here’s what I wrote in an essay years ago:

          “Because dodder was known in medieval Greek as lion’s grass, presumably due to a lion’s fierce method of attacking its prey, people back then believed that anything that would repel a lion would repel the similarly named dodder. One bit of ancient folklore held that lions are afraid of roosters, so the Geoponica claimed that sprinkling a rooster’s blood at the four corners of a field would keep lion’s grass from growing there. But why sacrifice a farm animal when there was another method that would let the rooster live and would also provide unaccustomed entertainment for the farmer? Here’s that other approach:

          ” ‘A marriageable girl must strip completely naked and let down her hair; she must then take a [rooster] in her hands and circumambulate the place; the weed will at once disappear.’

          “I’ve pored over the advice that today’s agricultural extension agents have given for dealing with dodder and have been surprised that not one of them has recommended that tried-and-true method.”

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 22, 2021 at 6:38 AM

      • Ha, it would seem fair for it to have its own parasite! I’m glad that stuff doesn’t grow here – it sounds dreadful. I feel sorry for the poor sunflowers…

        Ann Mackay

        October 22, 2021 at 1:36 PM

  3. Parasitic vines is a good analogy… good read.

    Alessandra Chaves

    October 22, 2021 at 7:17 AM

  4. I’ve seen (and documented with photos for NPSOT-Wilco) Dodder in the field before, but never saw anything this robust. It’s kind of scary. I checked out the link to Bari Weiss’s post, and checked out the link to the Daniel Pearl award. Tried to subscribe, and found out I was already on the free plan under a different email.
    I’m surprised you didn’t give the reference to the tried and true method to control Dodder, other than your own essay – so unlike your usual meticulous scholarship…


    October 22, 2021 at 7:23 AM

    • I was fortunate to find such a robust stand of dodder in Manor that morning.

      Regarding your last sentence, do you mean that I mentioned the tried-and-true method for dodder removal only in my reply to a comment rather than in the text’s post? Or are you implying there’s another method I didn’t discuss at all?

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 22, 2021 at 7:43 AM

      • I was referring to the method of a marriageable young person running around with a rooster in hand… which, I believe, was in response to a comment.


        October 24, 2021 at 10:51 AM

        • Yes, I mentioned that method in response to a comment. Were you suggesting I should’ve mentioned it in my post’s text?

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 24, 2021 at 11:16 AM

  5. Thanks for the article, will read it later. Weiss is a favorite.


    October 22, 2021 at 10:29 AM

  6. From the looks of it, dodder would make excellent material for a soft pillow or mattress.

    Peter Klopp

    October 22, 2021 at 10:31 AM

  7. YUCK!


    October 23, 2021 at 2:54 AM

  8. As often as I see dodder, I’ve had to hunt and hunt to find even a few flowers; this is the first year I managed to photograph them. It may simply be that my timing is off, since the scattered flowers I found were faded and gone within a couple of weeks. I wonder if in places like Galveston and Brazoria counties we have a different species. I just read that different dodders are specific to different plants; the next time I find some, I’ll pay attention to the host plant.


    October 23, 2021 at 7:53 AM

    • Bill Carr lists 8 Cuscuta species in Travis County, all of them native, so there’s good reason to believe that many species hang out in your area, too. As you mentioned, some prefer certain plants or plant families, while others are “generalists.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 23, 2021 at 9:00 AM

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