Cuscuta pentagona: The "Dodder" That Won't Leave Home

By Jeff Cassel

This post is one of a series from professor Nisse Goldberg's Plant Taxonomy students at Jacksonville University.
Figure 1: Dodder stems lack chlorophyll and are easy to spot because of
their orange color. Photo credit: Curtis Clark.
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Solanales
Family: Cuscutacea
Genus: Cuscuta
Specific epithet: pentagona
Common name: Fiveangled Dodder

Figure 2: White, bell-shaped dodder flowers. Photo credit: Curtis Clark.
Cuscuta pentagona, or fiveangled dodder is a parasitic climbing vine, which means that it derives its nutrients from other organisms. Fiveangled dodder can be found throughout Florida in a variety of different habitats that include hammocks, dunes, and brackish marshes. You can recognize the plant by its yellow to orange stems (Fig. 1) and white, bell-shaped flowers (Fig. 2).

Because it is parasitic, dodder does not have chlorophyll and therefore does not photosynthesize. Dodder produces large numbers of seeds that depend on weathering or fungal attacks in order to germinate. These seeds can live in the soil for up to 20 years, waiting for the perfect conditions. Once a seed germinates, the growing plant must reach a host within a few days or die. When dodder attaches to a host, it pierces through the host's epidermis or ‘skin’ layer in order to extract nutrients. Dodder is dependent on the host for survival, so it usually does not kill its host. However it does weaken the host, making it subject to diseases.

The fiveangled dodder has been used by the indigenous peoples as a laxative, contraceptive, and even to treat tuberculosis!

Wunderlin, RP and Hansen, BF. 1998. Guide to the Vascular Plants of Florida. Gainesville: University of Florida.

Image Sources
Figure 1: Dodder stems
Figure 2: Dodder flowers

Edited and formatted by Laurie Sheldon


Anonymous said…
I need a sample of dodder for testing the essential oil composition. This will entail determination of whether it is reactive against certain bacteria, cancers. Does anyone know where I can find some to sample?

Hi Rena. Is this for a research project for a university or other not-for-profit organization?
Lynn said…
I am looking for a sample of dodder seeds for use In a controlled research project. is there a source in Florida?
Hi Lynn. If you will send your contact info, specs about your project (what are you trying to discover, an abstract of your experiment, and how much seed you need) to, I'll query our facebook fans to see if anyone knows of a source.

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