The dreaded dotter


As my husband and I drove down several San Diego freeways recently, we noticed that there were tufts of orange cotton-candy-like fluffy stuff growing on the bushes along the freeway. What is it?

-- No Name, the net

If I understand your description, you're seeing the dreaded dodder. Nasty stuff. The botanical name is Cuscuta, but it's commonly called devil's guts, devil's hair, strangleweed, and a few more names equally rude. Dodder is a parasite plant that grows in a mat-like, tangled mass of fine stems. It has no chlorophyll, so it can't make its own nutrients. Instead, it attaches to other plants with little suckers and kills the host by taking all its food. There are dozens of species of dodder, and once it's established, it's very hard to get rid of. The plants you see now will die in the fall, but next spring the seeds they dropped will probably sprout. If the sprouts find a green host within 48 hours, the dodder's off again for another year. It may look cheery and picturesque, but it's miserable stuff.

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