The plant kingdom’s “Twilight Zone”

[Credit: L. Sloan]

What would you call a plant that does not behave like a plant? Ninety-nine percent of plants in the plant kingdom make their own food using light, water, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and other plant nutrients, via a very complicated process we all know as photosynthesis. There are however, plants in that one percent of the plant kingdom which I like to call the “Twilight Zone,” because these plants do not make their own food but, instead, are parasitic on other plants. They literally suck the life (water and nutrients) out of the host plant!

Mooch much?

[Credit: UF/IFAS]

Dodder vine is one such genus (Cuscuta) of “Twilight Zone” plants. For a very brief period of its life cycle, it behaves like its seed-bearing relatives in the plant kingdom, producing seeds which germinate upon finding a suitable substrate. But, after germination, the seedlings do not produce their own food like ‘normal’ plants. Instead, they become parasitic and vampire-like, depending on a host plant for survival.

Foe, not friend

[Credit: UF/IFAS]

Because plants provide many ecological benefits (cleaner air and water, bird/butterfly/bee habitats, etc.), they are usually considered to be environmentally friendly. But make no mistake: there’s nothing friendly about parasitic plants. Don’t confuse these parasites with true vines, such as passionvine, which produce leaves and photosynthesize their own food. If you have parasitic plants overrunning host plants, implement control measures as soon as possible.

Bottom line

[Credit: UF/IFAS]

Carefully remove any parasitic plants which have infested your property, and be vigilant implementing measures to prevent re-infestation and spread.

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