Friday, July 2, 2010

Attack of the Vampires

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.

So WTF?

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.

11 comments:

Chrissykat said...

Never heard of it nor have I seen it (fortunately!). I wonder if it's only in certain zones?...Hmmm. Well, certainly hope you caught & banished it successfully sans the flame thrower!

lifeshighway said...

OMG! That is creepy as hell. You could make a movie about that stuff. I have never seen it or heard of it.

Burning sounds like a great tactic. Burning with fire seems to take care of a lot of supernatural things.

MyMaracas said...

Chrissy, I'm not sure if it's everywhere, but it is apparently causing a lot of trouble in California. I've been watching for it as I drive around here in Indiana, but so far this patch is the only one I've seen. Thank goodness.

Lifeshighway, it IS creepy isn't it! I had never heard of it either. And yeah, purification by fire seems like a great idea. I coulda done this puppy in with a flamethrower, dang it.

Caron said...

That's a bit too Star Trek for me and my garden. It's worse than bindweed. Your hubby is a brave man.

MyMaracas said...

Caron, I could use a phaser set to Kill for this stuff. Way worse than bindweed.

Annie said...

My gosh, that IS positively creepy. Kudos to the hubs for getting in there and doing the deed on that nasty thing.

ramblingwoods.com said...

Holy cow..I have never heard of such a thing...that is way too creepy and what a pain...Good for hubby..I hope we don't ever get any of that here...

Denise said...

So that's what it is! I've seen this on one of our favorite walks in a marshy area several miles from here. Never knew what it was before though. Very interesting post. Hope you've finally got a handle on it, not for the lack of trying that's for sure and certainly not something that you would want to take over in your garden.
An English Girl Rambles

Unseen Rajasthan said...

We have the same kind of plant in India too and it is known as " Amar Bel" which means "Immortal Plant".It kills the other plant.Thanks for sharing !!

EG Wow said...

I've never heard of it before! It sounds scary indeed.

Carol said...

When I enlarged your photo it was surprising to see the intricate network this weed is establishing, and with no roots. What is a pond owner to do indeed. We are in nearby Ohio and I haven't spotted it here, nor at our pond at the previous home in the country. Eternal vigilance seems daunting. I hope you keep us up to date on this pest. I'm going to go google it now....