Dodder, devil's guts, devil's hair, devil's ringlet, goldthread, hailweed, hairweed, hellbine, love vine, pull-down, strangleweed, angel hair, and witch's hair

Description: annual or perennial

Place of origin: North America, Europe, Asia

Urban habitat: can thrive in a variety of soil and light conditions.

Ecological function: disturbance-adapted colonizer.

History: Cuscuta is a genus of about 170 species of parasitic plants. The greatest number of species are found throughout the world in subtropical and tropical regions, although there are approximately 40 Cuscuta species native to various parts of North America. The species Cuscuta japonica, native to Japan, has been introduced into the US where it is considered a noxious weed. Dodder seeds sprout near the surface of soil and grows by twining itself around nearby host plants which it needs in order to survive. If the host contains food beneficial to dodder, the dodder will insert itself into the vascular system of the host and its roots in the soil will die. Over time, severe infestations of dodder can weaken and possibly kill its host plant. Scientists have found that dodder uses scent to locate other plants. A number of Cuscuta species have been used for medicinal and practical purposes including by North American Native tribes, who used it variously as a ceremonial drug, contraceptive, antidote for black widow spider bites, and as a scouring material for cleaning. In traditional Chinese medicine, its seed is a common ingredient in herbs used to promote sexual stamina in men, as well as for treatment of kidney problems.