Love Vine -

also known as Dodder

Love Vine or Dodder (Cuscuta and Grammica species)

There are many deserved names for this annual parasitic weed. The more recent term is Dodder. Earlier names include Devil's Hair, Hellbine, Goldthread, Strangleweed and Witch's hair.

Believed that dodder was within it's own family, genetic research concluded it to be within the Convolvulaceae, or Morning Glory family.

It is uncertain exactly how many species of Dodder exist but it is thought the number can go as high as 170.

This weed's species was commonly known as Grammica gronovii but has been found to have species in Cuscuta with minor physical characteristic differences. For example..

..there are some rogue species of Dodder that grow through photo-synthesis, but the majority of this weed species rely on host plants to provide energy for growth.

Some grow through photo-synthesis,  most Dodder grow through sucking juices from hosts.
Photo: Gerald Tang

There are two simple breakdowns of Dodder - Native and Japanese.

1) Native species of Dodder

    These have thread-like slender, wiry stems known as a tendril.  These tendrils attach to and form around other vegetation that are welcome host plants. Dodder winds around vegetation differently than other winding weeds do. Dodder roots itself into host then sucks the juices out due to its own lack of chlorophyll. The host plants cell tissue breaks down, wasting the plant away.

    Stems color of dodder can vary from a pale green to yellow-gold or bright orange-red, even white. All are noticeable against the color of the host plant. Stems also have triangular leaves on them about 1/16 inch long.

    Small fruit on this Vine is produced anywhere from mid-summer to early autumn and usually are similar in color as the vine. The fruit is about 1/8" in diameter and produces 1 to 4 seeds.

    Flower colors vary depending on species. They can be anywhere from white to pink or yellow to cream. Flowers are about 1/8" long and bell-shaped. They usually cluster but can also be single. Flowers bloom in early summer but depending on the species, others can bloom later and will be present until the end of the growing season in fall.

2) Japanese Dodder

    Japanese dodder tendrils are thicker than other dodder species. Outside of being thicker, stems are leafless. Just as with native dodder, the Japanese weed also has fruit and flowers similar to the above descriptions.

Love Vine not only sucks the life out of its host,
but species will vary in the different hosts they infect.
They can be wild or cultivated and especially favor plants
like alfalfa,flax, Japanese and bush clovers and even potatoes.

The more esthetic plants are chrysanthemums, dahlias, many
daisies in the helenium genus, English ivy, petunias,
trumpet vines and Virginia creeper.

Dodder spreads by seed. These seeds have a hard outside coat that many other plants' seeds do not have. Seeds sprout at or near the soil surface staring in spring at soil temperatures of about 60 degrees.

When dodder does germinate it senses their host plant by smell. If germination occurs without a growing host plant close by it must quickly find one to attach to or it will die anywhere between 5 - 10 days. Once it does find a plant to attach to the original root then dies in the soil.

Eradicating love vine is difficult but the best way to start requires control of current populations.

Pull native dodder off host plant as soon as it is detected.  Be aware when removing mature vines, seeds will fall to the ground making it difficult to completely remove.

Because of its own lack of chlorophyll Dodder roots itself into host then sucks out the juices.
Photo: Linda Bair

If there is a large infestation get rid of everything, including the host plants. This because of the consideration of haustorium.

is a parasitic fungus that transfers into the host plant tissues and the infestation remains.

One way to do so is pulling plants or burning for removal.  Contact post-emergent herbicides will also kill both the love vine and it's host.

Focus on eliminating seeds and seed production, which will take years. Because of the hard coating on the seed they are hard to destroy in soil and also will lie dormant longer until a suitable host comes along. Seeds can also be spread around by various methods including water irrigation.

Because of the hard seed coating, traditional black plastic solarization, burning and pre-emergents can be ineffective. It is possible with preemergents, but application intensity and duration must be ongoing and consistent. As for the use of herbicides it is recommended to Preemergent DCPA (Dacthal).

For the removal of Japanese Dodder, depending on the state you live in, it is recommended not to control it yourself. Some states request the county agricultural commissioner be contacted first.

Once in control of love vine, the best alternative to keep it from coming back would be to plant non-host plants. Also keep in mind that shaded areas greatly reduces the tendrils attaching to vegetation.

Related Articles:

    Back from Love Vine to Weed Identification

    Back from Love Vine to Easy Butterfly

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