Picture this: You're strolling around a peaceful little pond. Suddenly, you encounter mutant yellow spaghetti.
It has no leaves. It has no roots. It does have lots of inquisitive little tendrils.
A quick web search reveals the name of the beast: This is dodder, also known by such names as devil's guts, devil's hair, strangle weed, and hell bind. It is a parasite. It is fascinating. And it is a nightmare.
Dodder flowers, and when the dodder seed sprouts it has about a week to find a host plant before it dies. If it finds one, it sinks its fangs into the victim and starts sucking its blood. Then it starts spreading, growing at the rate of about six inches a day. Unchecked, it forms dense mats over everything in sight.
Here's the fascinating part: Dodder can smell its prey.
Scientists gave it a choice of nearby wheat, which it doesn't like, and tomatoes, which it does. The dodder exhibited a disturbingly animal-like ability to zero in on its target and to propel itself toward the goal.
"It's probably one of the creepiest plants I know," says professor Colin Purrington of Swarthmore College.
Here's a time lapse of the critter in action:
Once dodder attaches to a plant, there's no getting rid of it. Pull it off and it grows back from the broken part remaining inside the host. Break up the vines, and the pieces become new plants. (Wish I had known about that before I started poking at it.) And if it goes to seed, all is lost.
So what's a pond owner to do?
Clearly, this means war. And with this bloodsucker, a stake through the heart is useless.
Web suggestions for fighting back include toxic chemicals, acid, and flame throwers. Chemicals and acid are out because civilian casualties would include frogs, birds, turtles, and dragonflies. And nobody seems to want to rent me a flame thrower. (I may now be on a Homeland Security watch list.)
Time to haul out my secret weapon: The Hubby. Once briefed on the mission, The Hubby pulled up his Wellies, armed himself with a shovel, and waded into battle. He uprooted every doomed plant that had fallen to the enemy, and there were a lot of them. He burned what would burn and packed the rest into garbage bags. Mission accomplished ... maybe.
We caught the infestation early, and that patch seems to have been the only affected area, but I'm sure it's still in there somewhere. So my duties now include The Daily Dodder Patrol. It seems the price of freedom will be eternal vigilance.
Longwood Gardens - Part IIII
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