The below monologue is not about an edible plant, though it does resemble spaghetti, it isn’t even about a plant that I like. I have a deep aversion to this plant and since I have been forced to spend SOOOOO much time with it… I decided to blog about it. It is called Japanese Dodder Vine (Cuscuta spp) a particularly striking member of the Convolvulaceae family. It’s common names are: the vampire plant, lovevine, strangleweed, hellbind, goldthread, witches shoelaces and devil’s guts.
For those living locally I have spotted it on Big Hill road along the New River, on top of Junaluska mountain, under the power line along 194 near the DOT, between the golf course and the Methodist church on Deerfield road in Boone AND in my backyard. How it got to my back yard is a mystery but one thing I’ve learned upon dealing with it for the past 3 Summers, it is here to stay.
Here is the story…
June, 2008 my father had an accident where his spine was broken and as he languished in the hospital for 3 months I spent as much time with him as possible. Being Summer, my garden was left to fend for itself. One particular 3 week stretch I returned home from being with my Dad to an unforgettable sight. Orange spaghetti was matted in glistening globs all over my back yard plants. A usual amazon of lively poke weed, yellowdock, goldenrod, evening primrose, ironweed, joe pye weed, lambs quarter, jewelweed, burdock, amaranth…. the plants were mere black skeletons. I starred horrified. I had never seen anything like it. It didn’t take long searching the web to ascertain that the culprit was a noxious parasitical vine called, Japanese Dodder Vine. The more I learned about it the more indignant I felt and the more determined I became to rid my land of this orange scourge.
But it has never gone away. It comes back every year. It is a daily duty to search for it’s stranglehold and eradicate it. The seeds lay dormant in the soil for up to SIXTY YEARS. And since it had flowered and seeded while I was away caring for my father it will be a constant battle to fight for as long as I live here.
“If you are a horror movie producer looking for inspiration, this could be your plant! It has it all: long orange tentacles to grasp and entangle its victims, suckers to drain their life juices, and a devastating lifestyle to match that of any hostile alien symbiont.” (quote from The Garden Geeks)
Farmers have placed the dodder – aka “Strangleweed,” “Devil Guts,” and “Witches Shoelaces” – on a ten most-wanted list of weeds. Swarthmore College biology professor Colin Purrington says the vine starts out as just a tiny tendril with no roots or leaves. It then has about a week to find a host plant it can wrap itself around. “It’s probably one of the creepiest plants I know,” says Purrington. “It’s a horrible existence for the host plant. If plants could scream, they’d have the loudest screams when they had Dodder attached.”
Even though I absolutely hate this parasitical colorful plant, it has taught me a few Spiritual lessons as I have been up close and personal with it for many many dedicated hours. It seems to me that the Dodder Vine and Sin are a suitable analogy, paralleling each other in tactics and it’s destructive effects.
I have used the time seemingly wasted ripping up host plants to the Dodder vine in praying for my sons that they would live untangled lives free from sin and it’s destruction.
What the Bible says about sin, it’s agenda, it’s mannerisms and it’s effects
Genesis 4:7 “Sin is crouching at the door, and it’s desire is for you, but you must master it.”
Hebrews 3:13 “But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is called “Today”, so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
Psalms 38:3 “There is no health in my bones because of my sin.”
Romans 6:23 “The wages of sin is death”
Hebrews 12:1 “Let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us…”
Hebrews 12:15 “See to it that no root of bitterness spring up causing trouble, and by it many be defiled.”
John 8:34 “Jesus said, “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin”
1 Timothy 5:22 “Keep yourselves free from sin”
2 Corinthians 2:11 “That no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.”
John 10:10 says “The thief comes ONLY to steal, kill and destroy. I (Jesus) came that you might have life and have it to the full”.
It all reminds me of the story of Pinocchio. The wooden puppet who had become a ‘real’ boy. He had left the safety of his father, Gepetto’s, clock shoppe to venture with the wrong crowd to ‘Pleasure Island’. They were all having a swell time till Pinocchio realized that all his newfound friends were sprouting donkey ears and tails and turning into asses. Sin will make an ass out of us! Yet if sin were not alluring none of us would allow it to fasten it’s grip on us. Unlike Pinocchio’s escape, unhappy plants that fall under the Dodder’s spell do not fare so well. In fact, once the vine coils around the healthy stems the vampire-like Dodder then sinks its fangs into its victim and starts drinking. If left alone the host plants will be sucked of all their life and color leaving a mass of black death.
Lessons I have learned from the Dodder vine and it’s analogy to sin:
1. Like Dodder, sin is often colorful, eye catching and alluring… yet as you will see with the eye catching and morbidly fascinating Dodder vine…. all that glitters is not gold! Sin does not bring life, it sucks life. Dodder is bright orange, it has no chlorophyll of it’s own. Because of this problem, Dodder vines must function as parasites to obtain nourishment from other plants.
2. Sin often appears deceptively harmless. The Dodder vine starts out as just a tiny tendril with no roots or leaves. Once the seed has germinated it has only a few days to find a host plant it can wrap itself around. If it does not it will die. An established vine has many long fragile and willowy orange tentacles which appear totally harmless as they tickle would be hosts. “I will not hurt you” it seems to say. Look how friendly I am… These flexible soft tendrils can go in many directions at once sniffing a suitable victim.
3. Yet when sin gets a stranglehold it brings death. Romans 6:23 “The wages of sin is death”. Once the orange tendrils find a willing host it coils around with a vice grip and does not stop till it has encircled the host always counterclockwise in it’s hungry navigation, sometimes doubling back over it’s original tracks and always reaching out to other plants in it’s pursuit of MORE. Inserting specialized roots called haustoria (like vampire fangs) that actually penetrate and invade the tissues of the host plant, water, minerals, and carbohydrates are obtained directly from the host. The root portion of the Dodder dies and the plant separates from the soil, now being entirely dependent on the host plant to sustain it and support it’s voracious habit of spreading up to 6 inches a day in all directions.
4. If sin is not dealt with decisively it brings forth a multiplicity of more devastation and long term consequences. The mother plant has the potential of producing 16,000 seeds per season. NEVER let Dodder vine become established. If left unchallenged the orange spaghetti monsters pile on top of each other in a dense mat where they flower, seed and blow their poisonous wares in all directions while turning all the host vegetation below black and lifeless. Seeds spread in a circumference of 10 feet. The seeds can remain viable and dormant in soil for up to 60 years. Not only is the Dodder vine parasitic but it is known to spread various plant diseases.
5. It takes daily due diligence to uproot any known sin to keep it from infecting further and spreading it’s effects to others. Likewise, I have to be on Dodder Vine patrol almost daily to keep it under control. Last week I had let 8 days or so go by without investigating and when I finally did it had spread it’s orange nastiness to the size of a mini van. The best bet is to hand pull the dodder and its infested host, roots and all. It is especially important that you destroy the dodder vine before it sets seeds. If you find it on plants around your home it would be prudent to destroy it immediately. It is a weed in no danger of extinction that has the potential to be a gardener’s nightmare.
6. Be thorough in your treatment of sin and in eradicating Dodder. Even a tiny piece of Dodder left will continue to wreak havoc. Fragments carried by wind, water, people, or birds also start new tangles. After dying back in winter, it grows back strongly in spring. To kill the parasite, the host plant usually has to be ripped up by the roots and killed. All fragments of vine and host plant must be buried in landfill (not composted). I put the whole mess in large plastic bags and take them to the landfill. Burning is not effective and leaving them on a leaf pile will only spread it’s effusiveness to more areas of your land.
7. Replace sinful habits with life giving habits. ‘Empty place is still a place’, the old saying goes. There are some plants that actually are immune or resistant to Dodder vine infestation, such as: cereals, corn, soybeans, velvetbeans or cowpeas. Planting these in an infested and eradicated area may assist in control. Replace sin with life giving and healthy choices!
I found it surprising as I did my research that Dodder has several medicinal gifts. I collected a bucketful of Dodder in full flower and am brewing a tincture to see how it works medicinally. I used gloves to collect from the most abundant patch and was VERY careful to keep the bucket covered so as not to inadvertently spread the seeds. It is just an experiment for me and I’ll let you know what I learn in the process.
“Various dodder species have been used to treat a great variety of different ailments. Some are thought to take on and enhance the medicinal properties of the plants they parasitize. The dodder that grows on thyme (Cuscuta epithymum) has been a favorite in European folk medicine.” Well maybe BUT why not just use THYME?
One of my favorite herbalist of all time Jim Macdonald told me this. “In Chinese medicine Dodder seed is a valued medicinal in Chinese medicine – said to help sperm production and motility. Michael Moore wrote about the use of dodder (the herb) for lymphatic inflammation and congestion, and swollen spleen. I imagine it might have a similar effect on swollen lymph glands.”
Hmmm. Infertility is a huge issue in our society, thanks to vaccines, fluoridated water and now in many foods, genetically modified foods (lots of culprits) so I did raise my eyebrow with the thought that Dodder may boost sperm production and motility.
So there may just be a silver lining to this orange cloud.
Another possible analogy to the Dodder vine and it’s cunning might be our parasitic government (without any redemptive qualities)
September 3rd Dodder Vine update
One is never quite out of the quicksand once this parasitical orange silly string decides to take up residence…. My day was planned, full of pressing duties and personal agendas… All of that was turned on its ear when Skipper and I took a short walk through our backyard just to see what Nature’s wave was bringing with the cooler weather. Keenly scanning the greenscape…. and then…….
ORANGE and more ORANGE and more…. Plans averted…. the new priority was to get all of this sneaky vine. I set to ripping up the unhappy host plants from their roots. Half an hour later all that I could find was stuffed into a black trash bag and tightly sealed for a trip to the dump. Really, it doesn’t matter that I’m tired of this plant or bored with it’s antics, it becomes top priority to eradicate it before it snakes off into more of my green wild jungle ensnaring unsuspecting plants. Left to itself it would not stop. So I have to be vigilant and daily in my commitment to rip up Dodder from my yard. Every day, day after day…. Reminded me again of the admonition in Hebrews 3:13 “But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is called “Today”, so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin and fall away from the Living God.”
If I have to take a plant’s aggressive destruction seriously how much more do I need to uproot sins deceptive grasp in my life? Just can’t let it go and set up a stranglehold! So take a daily walk around the perimeters of your heart and mind and be ruthless with anything that might be fastening it’s grip on you.
Psalms 101:2-4 “I will walk within my house in the integrity of my heart. I will set no worthless thing before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not fasten its grip on me. A perverse heart shall depart from me; I will know no evil.”