The Q&A Archives: Rapidly Spreading, Rootless Weed: Dodder

Question: The ? plant looks like very fine yellow spaghetti with tendrils that advance by coiling up and down the stems of the perennials. There are no leaves. It produces clusters of aproximately 1/8 inch white balls which turn into equally tiny flowers. It started about 6 weeks ago on chrysanthemum plants, and has now progressed to attack any other perennial in its path. Since it doesn't appear to have roots I assume it derives its life from the plant and the air. What is this thing and what do I do about it before it invades my whole yard?

Answer: This bizarre-sounding weed must be dodder (Cuscuta spp)! To be sure, there is a photograph at this url:

It is a parasite and has no chlorophyl; it survives by feeding through the vascular system of the host plant. Since it is an annual and will set seed after flowering, try to remove as much of it as soon as you can from your plants, especially any flowers. Be sure to destroy it (some gardeners burn it) -- do not put it in your compost heap. When the seeds first germinate it has a few roots, so frequent cultivation can stop it in its earliest stage.

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