Wednesday, November 30, 2016

California Dodder

California Dodder: photo by Cliff Hutson
California Dodder: photo by Cliff Hutson
The astute reader of this blog may recall that I am a Nature Interpreter at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden (RSABG) and lead tours for school children and adults. It was also my pleasure to have written the “Plant of the Month” article for “Oak Notes”, an in-house newsletter, for four years.

One of the sites I refer to, among the usual suspects such as Wikipedia and CNPS, when writing about a plant is maintained by the Consortium of California Herbaria  which provides information about California vascular plant specimens that are housed in participant herbaria. One can search on just about any plant and obtain a list of accessions from around the state.

California Dodder (Cuscuta californica), hits close to home as it has records dating from 1897 to 2009 for specimens found in and around Claremont. Two of these are housed in the RSABG herbarium. One was collected from the Bernard Field Station, just to the east. The other was found along Thompson Creek where I often see the plant.

Cuscuta californica, also called Chaparral Dodder, is an annual parasitic herb or vine that is native to California. It is also found outside of California, but is confined to western North America. Dodder is readily identified by its threadlike, hairless, yellow, orange, or red shoots which twine around host plants eventually creating a tangled mat. One notable feature is that it does not usually have roots that reach the ground. Instead, knoblike organs along the shoot (haustoria) penetrate the host stem. Shoots either lack leaves or have very tiny red, yellow, or orange scalelike leaves pressed close to the stem. It tends to bloom from May through October. The white flowers are tiny, only about 3 to 6 millimeters wide. The fruits are even smaller.

Dodder once had its own family, but it is now consigned to CONVOLVULACEAE, the Morning Glory Family. The epithet Cuscuta seemingly comes from Cuscu'ta a name of Arabic derivation meaning "dodder”. The common name, Chaparral Dodder, tips us to one of its habitats. It is also found through out the state in many other plant communities such as forests and grasslands. And, of course, “the City of Trees and PhDs”.

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