Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Witches' hair and devil's sewing thread in Nashville
Halloween is coming and what better way to start celebrating then by seeking out this evil wildflower's dwellings. Dodder (Cuscuta epithymum) is a parasitic plant with folknames such as Witches' Hair, Devil's Sewing Thread, and Hellweed. Dodder, or it's most common and less scary name, Love Vine, is one of few flowering parasitic plants. Dodder's ghoulish names come from the uncommon manner in which it thrives. Like most plants, Love Vine's seeds germinate in the soil and send up small shoots, but unlike other plants the stem grows up in a circular motion until it comes into contact with a nearby plant (the host). Dodder's stem begins to twine around the neighboring plant, inserting suckers into its stem to draw out nutrients, because dodder has no chlorophyll of its own. Once this contact is made, dodder's original stem wilts and breaks from the ground. Now it is completely dependent on the host plant for nourishment.
The flourishing dodder vine can produce hundreds of feet of stem and new root-like probes, draining the host plant of nutrients and water. The host becomes covered in an entanglement of the threadlike vine causing it to lose sunlight. Most parasitic plants don't pose a serious threat to their hosts, but can cause enough damage to reduce the yields of food crops, such as alfalfa and clover.
Medicinally, dodder has been used as remedy for kidney, liver and spleen ailments. The 17th century herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper believed dodder takes on the properties of the plant it grows on. Culpeper claims dodder that grew on nettles took on the diuretic properties of the host and cured ailments of the urinary tract. Culpeper's favorite host plant was thyme. He believed if dodder that grew on thyme was administered medicinally, it helped diseases of the “head and brain” such as “trembling of the heart, faintings, and swoonings.”
Dodder is a magical plant ruled by Saturn. It is used in love divination and knot magic. Pick dodder and throw it over the shoulder back onto the host plant. Return to the same plant the next day. If the dodder has reattached itself to its host, the person in question loves you. If it hasn't, then the person doesn't.
Dodder can be viewed in its natural state at Edwin Warner Park in Nashville, August-October.