Our commonest parasite, and very troublesome in clover and alfalfa fields, or wherever it obtains a hold. The seed - a coiled thread, a worm-like embryo - germinates in the ground. When the yellow stem which springs from this seed is 2 inches high, it reaches for any neighboring herb or shrub. Once in touch, it develops haustoria, or suckers, which penetrate the bark of the host, and thence draw the plant's juices, already assimilated, appropriating them for its own. The part in the ground now dies and falls away, leaving the plant wholly parasitic. It quickly entwines itself around the whole shrub, reaching out for others near by, and thus we often see tangled mats and masses of yellow threads in the woods, by the roads, everywhere. Under the magnifying-glass the small, cabbage-like flowers show 5 divisions of calyx and corolla, with a 2-celled ovary, and thus they are brought within the Family which includes the apparently most dissimilar morning glory and sweet potato. Being parasitic, the plants possess no green leaves, but yellowish scales instead. By twining too tightly around the bark they inflict additional injury. C. Gronovii varies considerably in size of blossom and coarseness of stem. It is a curious but repulsive plant. From Canada southward to Florida and Texas. (See illustration, p. 434.)
Common Dodder (Cuscuta Gronovii)
C. Coryli bears small flowers, few scales, and is parasitic on hazel and other shrubs or coarse herbs.
Southern New England to Nebraska.
C. arvensis has pale yellow stems with large, deeply fringed scales.
Dry soil from New York and Florida and across the continent.
In that singular book by Dr. Erasmus Darwin, Loves of the Plants (published in 1791), he says of the cuscutas:
"With sly approach they spread their dangerous charms, And round their victims wind their wiry arms: So by Scamander, where Laocoon stood, Where Troy's proud turrets glittered in the wood,
Two serpent forms, incumbent on the main,
Ring above ring, in many a tangled fold,
Close and more close their writhing limbs surround."