Dodder vines are leafless parasites
Dodder is a fairly common native leafless parasitic vine. This fast-growing slender vine sprouts from a small seed and must quickly climb into or onto a host plant. If it does not reach into a host plant within a week or so, the dodder vine will die because it does not form a viable root system in the earth.
If the young vine finds a suitable host (such as the jewelweed touch-me-not shown here) it will wrap itself around the stem and insert tiny roots into the host plant's outer skin. The dodder will then draw nutrients from the plant it has invaded. The dodder's base will die, leaving the dodder no contact with the ground.
Dodder may grow to excess when weather conditions are right for its host. From a single seed it may grow to an orange hairy mass extending into numerous weeds. Sometimes dodder vines are white or green. Often these vines are orange. They will produce small clusters of white flowers in summertime and early autumn. The seeds are small and may lay dormant at the soil surface for years before germinating.
Through the Woods is a weekly nature photo column by Aaron Horrell. Find this column at semissourian.com to order a reprint of the photo. Find more work by him at the Painted Wren Gallery.