Friday, February 21, 2014

Killer Parasitic Plant Found on California Pepper Trees

About a week ago I got an email from some volunteers at a local park. They had dodder on their trees and needed to know how to control it. I asked them to send some pictures of the infestation, and I was quite surprised when I received them. Heaps of dodder vine were actually killing the tops of the trees. After doing some research on dodder I was made aware of Japanese dodder, a vine that threatens to become the Kudzu of California. It is what amounts to a super dodder and is considered a real threat to California agriculture. I had to check it out for myself so I visited the park. 

When I got there I was not disappointed; the amount of dodder on the trees was exceptional (see the pictures below).  I obtained some of the plant to try to identify. 

Turns out dodder is real tough to identify, especially if the minute whitish flowers are dry -as the ones on my specimen were. Still I was able to determine that this dodder was not the Japanese dodder due to the shape of the inflorescence (a typical Japanese dodder inflorescence is pictured here) and the fact that stems on the Japanese dodder can be 1/4 pencil thickness or better

Cuscuta sp.(dodder) massing on top of California pepper tree. Notice the dead and dying branches where the dodder is most concentrated. 

California pepper (Schinus molle) with substantial dodder infestation. the dodder appears as a golden mass at the top of the tree. 

Notice the thread-like dodder vines massing around the dying California pepper branches. 

Close up of dodder on pepper tree, notice dead branches in the background. 

Closeup of dodder from the pepper tree -notice the leaf in the middle of the picture; the dodder vine that seems to be laying on top of it as actually attached to it and has sucked the life out of it. 

Close up of dodder flowers -the flowers on the dodder vines were all dry -making them impossible to identify positively. However I was able to determine that the plant in question was not the dangerous Japanese dodder -its inflorescence is much different looking

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