On a recent excursion, I came across some dodder, a parasitic plant that is strangely beautiful and menacing at the same time. This seemingly contradictory effect is noted in some of its common names, which include devil's hair, angel hair, and strangleweed. It is known to parasitize a variety of plants, including crops such as alfalfa, clover, and flax. I had only seen it once before, cozied up to some vegetation along the Maine coast, but later learned that tropical and semitropical regions are host to more species of dodder than temperate zones. Hawaii has one species that is endemic, Cuscuta sandwichiana, locally known as kuana'oa, and one alien species, Cuscuta campestris. Kuana'oa is the official flower of Lana'i, and may be twisted and braided into beautiful lei.
The seeds of dodder are capable of remaining viable for quite some time, and when conditions are right, they will germinate and root into the ground. Now the race is on, because it must quickly find a host plant. Using chemosensory clues (and perhaps other clues), it "sniffs out" it's host and with a twisting embrace, taps into its vascular system with specialized roots called haustoria that appear as little bumps on the stem. The original root of the dodder dies off, and it is now dependent on the host. Kuana'oa tend to parasitize herbaceous plants, while a similar looking but unrelated plant, Cassytha filiformis, tends to prefer woody plants. No matter which, they both know how to cling to life.
welcomes you to visit with the all the wonderful flora and fauna that we share this lovely aina with.