Everyone will be familiar with the thorny evergreen gorse shrub with its bright yellow flowers. Gorse tends to begin to flower in late autumn and then flowers through winter. Its blooms are at their peak in spring.
Its flowers have a strong scent and smell just like coconut.
But from late spring you may see something rather odd, particularly on Incleborough Hill: gorse bushes sometimes completely covered with a strange, tangled, mass of red threads. This is dodder. The red threads are most prominent in summer.
Dodder (Cuscuta epithymum) is a parasitic, climbing, (usually) annual plant which is found on many small shrubs including heather and gorse. It is a member of the bindweed family.
In spring dodder starts to grow and twines round any nearby plant. You will see its flowers from July until September.
Once it has found a plant to scramble over, the lower stem withers and from then on the dodder is entirely dependent on its host for food.
It is a parasite and has no chlorophyll so can’t manufacture its own food by photosynthesis. The dodder suckers penetrate the stem of the host and food is “sucked” out of the host. If it can't find a suitable host within about 10 days of emerging, it will die.
Its "leaves" are very small scales on the stems of the plant.
Dodder grows very quickly and it does not take long for a large gorse bush to be totally covered.
Although dodder weakens its host it does not kill it.