Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Weirdly Disturbing Biology, Part III: Cuscuta

Pretty photo, right? I took it this morning on a bike ride. Normally this field is just dirt, cholla cactus, and a few brushy and spiky plants. But we've had an inordinate amount of rain lately, so everything greened up. And then this happened, almost overnight.

Cuscuta: also known as dodder, devil's guts, devil's hair, devil's ringlet, goldthread, hailweed, hairweed, hellbine, love vine, pull-down, strangleweed, angel hair, and witch's hair

It's a little hard to tell from the scenic photo what this stuff looks like, so I got in closer: it's like a vast layer of yellow cobwebs smothering everything. You know that can't be good—just look at the poor green clover it's strangling.

According to Wikipedia, "after a dodder attaches itself to a plant, it wraps itself around it. If the host contains food beneficial to dodder, the dodder produces haustoria that insert themselves into the vascular system of the host. ... Dodder ranges in severity based on its species and the species of the host, the time of attack, and whether any viruses are also present in the host plant. By debilitating the host plant, dodder decreases the ability of plants to resist viral diseases, and dodder can also spread plant diseases from one host to another if it is attached to more than one plant."

That is just ... unpleasant. But even before I got home and sorted what I was looking at, I was icked out by this stuff. Like all Weirdly Disturbing Biology, you get a feeling of near-sentience from something this ravenous and this successful. Not content with clover, it is coming. It is unstoppable.

And it is hungry. 

Cue dramatic music


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