Friday, August 20, 2010

Dodder: homonym: daughter

I guess it's been a little entertaining these past 25 years or so when friends unfamiliar with the natural world recognize me a "someone who likes nature" and therefore as someone who must know "something" about the plants growing in their yard or on a roadside which they've whizzed by at lightning speed while driving down the highway. I suspect it's a common occurrence: if you look like someone who might garden or maybe, like me, you don't shave or iron your clothes regularly, you surely know something about native plants and how to make a good curry. Oh, and you can also probably fix flat bike tires and set up a rain barrel in seconds flat.

"I have this plant in my yard. It has green leaves. What is it? It's big. Do I need to spray it?" So begins the conversations, usually, and then starts the process of elimination: woody stem?...flower?...shrub? shade?...and so forth.

But it's an easy process when someone asks about the plant ("or whatever it is") growing "all over the Current River" streambanks, the plant that "looks like spaghetti," (usually adding, "so it must be exotic, right?")

Dodder, looks like spaghetti, sounds like "daughter" but not spelled that way, and it's not exotic even though its prolific growth habit may hint that it is. Missouri is home to ten or more species of dodder, a parasitic plant genus commonly found on streambanks, but just as likely seen on railroad rights-of-way and in dry uplands. I've seen a dodder thriving on a dolomite glade in the White River Hills, wrapping tendrils around a hazelnut in a swale.

Each species of dodder is dependent on a different suite of native herbaceous or woody plants for sustainability. To accurately key dodder species, one needs to know more than the host plants. It's necessary to use a hand lens and a good key for flower and fruit identification for dodder identification. In Steyermark's Flora of Missouri (63), the author lists several key plants that each species of dodder depends upon. Water willow and a smattering of composites common to streambanks are common host plants, but so are certain legumes and buttonbush. With their orange stems, dodder certainly stands out in the landscape. Most dodders flower between July and October, though some begin flowering in June, most flowers that lack the charisma of the bright orange and yellow strands upon which they grow.


Scott Namestnik said...

Dodder sounds like daughter? You crazy southerners.

Eric Hunt said...

Ha! This has happened to me, too. I have started giving the latin name first - one person didn't challenge me and seriously thought I told them that plant was named "Daughter" and cheerfully started telling others it was a "Daughter" plant.