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Vernal Pool Dodder

Common name: Vernal Pool Dodder

Scientific name: Cuscuta howelliana
Family: Cuscutaceae (dodder)
Habitat: vernal pools
Size: Flowers aren’t easily seen; the plant resembles orange string.

Fun facts: Vernal Pool Dodder is a parasite on other plants.

Description: Member of the dodder family. The plant consists of a mass of orange stems which resemble string. If you look closely you may see smaller stems entering the tissue of other plants. Vernal Pool Dodder has no leaves and produces very tiny, hidden flowers.

If you find what looks like a bunch of yellowish-to-orange string or something that looks-like a tangle of fishing line or spaghetti, you have probably found Vernal Pool Dodder.

Life cycle: Vernal Pool Dodder is an annual plant. It germinates on the tissue of other plants in February or March. It grows larger as the spring continues. It blooms in late May or early June, often putting its flowers within the flower clusters of other species such as Navarretia or Coyote-thistle.

Ecology: Dodder is parasitic on other plants. It gets its nutrients by stealing them from the host plant. Because it has no need to produce its own nutrients, it does not have to perform photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the method used to convert sunlight to energy. Because Vernal Pool Dodder does not have to photosynthesize, it doesn’t require leaves and chlorophyll. Chlorophyll gives most plants their green color. In addition, Vernal Pool Dodder does not produce nectar to attract pollinators. In instead it hides its flowers within the flower clusters of the host plant. There the dodder flower gets pollinated by insects attracted to the host plant’s showy flowers.

Investigate: Can you find where the dodder plant is attached to its host plant?

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