This section is from the book "The Native Flowers And Ferns Of The United States ", by Thomas Meehan. Also available from Amazon: The Native Flowers and Ferns of the United States in Their Botanical, Horticultural, And Popular Aspects.
Stems coarse, climbing high; flowers mostly five-cleft, in close or mostly open paniculate cymes; corolla bell-shaped, the tube longer than (or sometimes only as long as) the ovate obtuse entire spreading lobes; scales large, converging, copiously fringed, confluent at the base; pod globose, umbonate, brown. (Gray's Manual of the Botany of the Northern United States, Chapman's Flora of the Southern United States, and Wood's Class-Book of Botany.)
IT is interesting to note how differently the same object will impress different people. In this case we have the common Dodder, known to the people of the Southern States as "Love-Vine," as we learn from Darby and other Southern writers. It is difficult to imagine why a plant which winds itself around another, sucking the life from that which it clings to, should be suggestive of love, unless it be of that species which was in the mind of Byron when he thus apostrophized:
" Oh love! what is it in this world of ours That makes it so fatal to be loved ? Oh why With Cypress branches hast thou wreathed thy bowers And made thy best interpreter a sigh ! "
The true affection which "Where it toucheth clingeth tightly, Round glossy leaf or stump unsightly, And from its spirit wandereth out Tendrils spreading all about, Knitting all things to its thrall With a perfect love to all," if we may make this application from Lowell's " Threnodia," is anything but the selfish attachment which the Dodder has for other plants, which is very different from anything worth associating with love. The French emblematists take a very different view of it. They have dedicated it to "meanness," because says an anonymous writer, "as soon as its stalk can meet with that of another plant it fattens on it; then, like a vile parasite, this plant absorbs all the juice of its support, and kills it." Dr. Erasmus Darwin, whose curious poem, "The Loves of the Plants," issued in the beginning of the present century, still survives in public interest, took a very mercenary view of the love shown by the Dodder:
"---------, the fair Cuscuta, please
With labored elegance, and studied ease;
In the meek garb of modest worth disguised,
The eye averted, and the smile chastised,
With sly approach they spread their dangerous charms,
And round their victims wind their wiry arms.
So by Scamander when Laocoon stood,
Where Troy's proud turrets glittered in the flood,
Two serpent forms incumbent on the main,
Ring above ring, in many a tangled fold,
Close and more close their writhing limbs surround,
And fix with foamy teeth the envenomed wound."
But setting aside all that is ideal we may say that the plant is really a parasite, though unlike many parasitic plants it commences life in a creditable way; for the seed germinates in the ground instead of on other plants, and it is not until the growing stem has found some other kind to cling to, that it severs its connection with the earth which bore it, and lives wholly on the victim it has caught. In the case we illustrate it has seized the common Blackberry, Rubus villosus, and the little suckling rootlets which it throws out for its parasitic purposes are shown by our artist on the Dodder stem just above Fig. 4. It is not particular what kind of plant it attaches itself to; but the seed of each species requires its own special conditions for germination, some liking the full light and dry soil, and others rather damp soil and some shade; and in this latter class our present species is found. In ancient times when these fa were not known it was supposed that the separate species of this parasitic plant had special likings for separate victim plants, and hence in the writings of those Latin and Greek authors whose writings have come down to us from periods coeval with the Christian era, and to whom some species were known, we have one called the Epithymum, meaning the one which grew on the thyme; or the Epilinum, that which grew on flax. Salmon, an herbalist of the time of the English Queen Anne, gives an account of twenty-two Greek names, supposed to belong to as many species, and all these names derived from the plants on which the parasite was found. This very old author details his experiments in raising them from seed, and asserts that after the young plants have grown a little length from the seed they speedily die, unless they find something to cling to, and which more recent authors give as a modern dis-covery. It is a new illustration of the old truth that "there is nothing new under the sun."
At one time it was supposed that these curious plants partook somewhat of the character of the species on which they fed. Salmon, above referred to, says: "The Qualities and Properties of this Herb much follows those of the Plants upon which it grows;' and even Linnaeus in his "Materia Medica" says of the infusion of that which grows on the thyme, that it has an odor of that herb. A curious old herbalist, Culpeper, who flourished in times when people took medicine according to the astronomical signs in the old almanacs, declares that this plant is useful for those diseases which are under the control of Saturn, but as in this case to use his language "Old Saturn is wise enough to have two strings to his bow," growing it as well from the earth where its root is, as on plants it attaches to, physicians must look to the nature of the disease, as well as to the "hot plants" or the "cold plants" on which it feeds. The moderns do not concede that the nature of the victim plant has any influence on the essential properties of the parasite; and, as it has no leaves of its own, it shows that the power of individualization in species reposes in the cellular structure of the plant. While referring to the ideas of the ancient herbalist about the relation of the plant to diseases, it may be remarked that one of the most recent and most careful of modern authors, Dr. F. Peyre Porcher, merely says that "it is said to be laxative and hydragogue," and "it imparts a yellow dye to cloth."
The common name Dodder is said to be the ancient Frisian word, and to signify a tangled hank of silk, which the stalks often suggest.
It was at one time supposed that there were but two species of Cuscuta - one European and one American, and in earlier works we have to look for our plant as Cuscuta Americana; but Dr. George Engelmann has shown that there are numerous species in our country. The present one is probably the form noticed in the "Flora Virginica" of Gronovius, and has been named in his honor Cuscuta Gronovii. It is the most common of American species. Dr. Gray notes in his "Synoptical Flora of the United States," that it is found from Canada to Florida, and, in some of its forms, extends across the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific coast.
1,1. White and colored forms of the same species.
2, 2, 2. Varying forms of the flower at different stages of growth.
3. Representation of the umbonate apex of the capsule with its irregular-sized pistils.
4. Stem showing the points of close attachment to the victim plant.