Tangles of Love
As I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, I noticed a picture and question from someone I knew from my Student Conservation Association (SCA) days over 20 years ago. We met each other again on a hike a few years ago and realized we lived in the same town.
Liz and her children were out on a walk when they found what looked like eggs on a goldenrod stem. They wondered if it was a type of gall. A gall is a growth that is formed when an insect lays an egg in a plant cell and the chemicals trigger the plant cell to grow around the egg. The larva hatches inside the gall and stays there all winter, safe and snug. As an adult, they chew an exit hole and live a short life on the outside for a while.
There is a fly that creates a gall on goldenrod stems, but it is usually a single gall the size of a golf ball. This picture shows many, bb-sized objects all together. I can't claim to be the one who helped Liz identify what this is, I claim to have learned with her! I had no idea what was going on.
Someone used an app or added the photo to iNaturalist and found out that these are not eggs or a gall. They are the seed pods for a parasitic vine called dodder. I have seen a similar plant before in the Smokies. We called it tangles of love. These plants are in the genus, Cuscuta. They have orange vines and white flowers. They entwine tightly around a host plant and connect to the life-giving tissues. The dodder gets all it needs to survive from the host plant.
According to Go Botany, there are 11 species of dodder present in New England. After looking at the pictures and distribution maps, I think this one is probably Common Dodder, since it looks the most like the picture and is found more places. It could also be Compact Dodder. What do you think?