No, this isn’t a post about growing older–that would be doddering. Dodder is actually a very scary sort of parasite that can invade the garden and spread disease. It’s fairly uncommon in my part of the world–the Northeast–but reading the agricultural bulletins from the Midwest and California leads me to believe it’s a fairly decent sized problem out there. This one from Colorado State was typical.
That being said, I was shocked to find it growing on this patch of coreopsis in a town-maintained planting on a public street by a bus stop. I’m quite sure they haven’t a clue what it is or the havoc it can wreak. I’m not sure if I called the Public Works department I would get someone who would be knowledgable enough to care.
Dodder, for those unfamiliar with it, is a bit like mistletoe–it is a true parasite (although to get technical, mistletoe is hemiparasitic, because it can photosynthesize). Its seed germinates and once the “host” as its stems are called come in contact with a suitable plant, it attaches to that plant and derives all its nutrients from that plant. Needless to say, the plant won’t survive.
Also needless to say, herbicides can’t be used to control it without killing the “host” plant. And despite appearances, it can’t simply be just “lifted off” the plant.
As it grows it will make tiny flowers and set more seeds, thus perpetuating the cycle. Thus the only real way to get rid of it is with a pre-emergent herbicide in the spring–something that seems unlikely in this flower bed.
Also as it’s growing it can be transmitting disease to the host plant and plants around it. Dodder is known to transmit at least 20 different kids of disease. The ones most likely to affect this ornamental bed would be the “yellows” which are a series of fungal diseases and wilts. Aster yellows is perhaps the best known one–or best known to me at least.
Dodder is a relative of that delightful field bindweed that I know you’ve all seen in your garden (or perhaps other folks’ gardens)–if it’s flowering it looks like a small white morning glory with very pointy leaves. It is also a relative of morning glory. Think of it as the “bad seed” of the morning glory family–and hope to never see it in your garden!