This section is from the book "Nature's Garden", by Neltje Blanchan. Also available from Amazon: Nature's Garden; An Aid To Knowledge Of Our Wild Flowers And Their Insect Visitors.
Flowers - Dull white, minute, numerous, in dense clusters. Calyx inferior, greenish white, 5-parted; corolla bell-shaped, the 5 lobes spreading, 5 fringed scales within; 5 stamens, each inserted on corolla throat above a scale; 2 slender styles. Stem: Bright orange yellow, thread-like, twining high, leafless.
Preferred Habitat - Moist soil, meadows, ditches, beside streams.
Flowering Season - July - September.
Distribution - Nova Scotia and Manitoba, south to the Gulf States.
Like tangled yellow yarn wound spirally about the herbage and shrubbery in moist thickets, the dodder grows, its beautiful bright threads plentifully studded with small flowers tightly bunched. Try to loosen its hold on the support it is climbing up, and the secret of its guilt is out at once; for no honest vine is this, but a parasite, a degenerate of the lowest type, with numerous sharp suckers (haustoria) penetrating the bark of its victim, and spreading in the softer tissues beneath to steal all their nourishment. So firmly are these suckers attached, that the golden thread-like stem will break before they can be torn from their hold.
Not a leaf now remains on the vine to tell of virtue in its remote ancestors; the absence of green matter (chlorophyll) testifies to dishonest methods of gaining a living (see Indian Pipe, p. 233) not even a root is left after the seedling is old enough to twine about its hard-working, respectable neighbors. Starting out in life with apparently the best intentions, suddenly the tender young twiner develops an appetite for strong drink and murder combined, such as would terrify any budding criminal in Five Points or Seven Dials! No sooner has it laid hold of its victim and tapped it, than the now useless root and lower portion wither away, leaving the dodder in mid-air, without any connection with the soil below, but abundantly nourished with juices already stored up, and even assimilated, at its host's expense. By rapidly lengthening the cells on the outer side of its stem more than on the inner side, the former becomes convex, the latter concave; that is to say, a section of spiral is formed by the new shoot, which, twining upward, devitalizes its benefactor as it goes. Abundant, globular seed-vessels, which develop rapidly, while the blossoming continues unabated, soon sink into the soft soil to begin their piratical careers close beside the criminals which bore them; or better still, from their point of view, float down stream to found new colonies afar. When the beautiful jewel-weed - a conspicuous sufferer - is hung about with dodder, one must be grateful for at least such symphony of yellows.