General News · 25th June 2008
An unusual plant has shown up in the highest tide zone of a few rocky islets around Gorge Harbour. From a distance, we can be forgiven for suspecting a piece of torn and shredded orange tarp has washed ashore - but upon closer scrutiny, the tangle of “fibers” reveals itself as the thread-like and nearly leafless stems of a plant without roots and without chlorophyll. Its thin stems are wrapped tightly around the common salt-tolerant plant known as Pickleweed (Salicornia virginica). Little wart-like suckers attach to and penetrate the Pickleweed’s surface. What we are looking at is an obligate parasite, completely dependent on sucking the life-juices out of its host.
I had come across this plant (or a very close relative) before : growing by the side of the Mud Canyon Road in one of the driest places on earth : Death Valley !
The plant’s common name is Dodder, and both the desert and the coastal varieties belong to the same genus. Our local Salt Marsh Dodder is formally called Cuscuta salina, while the desert version I encountered is known as Cuscuta nevadensis. (Locally, the latter is sometimes called “Devil-Gut”.) The desert and the coast, two contrasting environments, have one common aspect : they have high concentrations of salt. Dodder obviously has specialized in exploiting salt-tolerant plants.
Hard to believe, but Dodder belongs in the same family as the Morning-Glories ! Its flowers are very inconspicuous and don’t look much like Morning-Glories, but their structure is essentially the same.
Maybe this unusual plant is not as uncommon as it seems. If you have noticed it somewhere around Cortes’ coastline, please let Sabina know - or e-mail me, and I will pass the message on.