If you notice "tendrils" in plants that you are growing, you should be aware of what this is. The "tendrils" are actually dodder, a parasitic plant.
Dodder does not have any leaves (or chlorophyll) to produce its own food. It lives by attaching to a host plant and extracting the host plant's carbohydrates. It does this by penetrating the host plant with small appendages called "haustoria." The reduction in carbohydrates causes weaker plants and reduced growth, yield, and quality.
Dodder appears as yellow strings winding up the stems or over the leaves of another plant. It might be missed if you don't look close enough. However, if dodder gets bad enough, it can look like a mat of these yellow strings covering the plants they parasitize.
Dodders belong to the genus Cuscuta. The USDA plant data base lists approximately 47 species (http://plants.usda.gov). Dodders are annuals and are spread by seed. Some species of Cuscuta may be able to survive in the soil for over 20 years.
Dodder is very difficult, if not impossible, to control once it becomes established. Parasitized plants must be removed. Dodder must be destroyed before it produces seeds or infestations will spread. Remove small infestations of dodder by hand and manage large ones with mowing, pruning, burning or spraying herbicides to stop seed production.
Here is an article from UF-IFAS on dodder: http://charlotte.ifas.ufl.edu/publications/REM-05192009-019--DodderVine-VampirePlant.pdf.
Kassie Conner, Plant Diagnostic Lab, ACES
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