The Amazing World of Dodder, Cuscuta epithymum

Bright pink dodder on gorse bushes on Incleborough Hill

Incleborough Hill, with its spectacular views, must be one of the best places at the moment to see the mysterious dodder, festooning the gorse and permeating the warm air with its heavy perfume.

This intriguing rootless parasite sniffs out its hosts, by recognising their chemical signature and then sends out long red tendrils to entwine about the plants. It has a variety of strategies to perpetuate itself. The flowers are self or insect pollinated.

Dodder in flower and dodder stems festooning gorse.
Dodder in flower and dodder stems festooning gorse.

On Incleborough they attract numerous Gatekeeper butterflies and various other insects such as bees and wasps. Its seeds can lie dormant for years, but by tightly coiling round perennial plant hosts, such as gorse or ling, Dodder can penetrate their woody stems, inducing the formation of galls. This means it can overwinter as parasitic tissue and get a head start in spring. According to Kew Gardens, Dodder species are the most rapidly growing parasitic plants. Although it can weaken its hosts, Dodder rarely kills them.