Parasitic Plants:

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Parasite: A living thing (such as a flea, worm, or fungus) that lives in or on another living thing (host) and gets food and sometimes shelter from the host. Parasites usually cause harm to the host.

Host: A living animal or plant on or in which a parasite lives.

Mutualism: Mutually beneficial association between different kinds of organisms where both partners benefit.

Commensalism: A relationship between two kinds of organisms in which one obtains food or other benefits from the other without damaging or benefiting it.

Parasitism: An intimate association between organisms of two or more kinds; especially: one in which a parasite obtains benefits from a host which it usually injures.

*Definitions From: Merriam-Webster Dictionary. 


ID Characteristics
Funky Facts!
References/More Information 

parasitic plants

Eurasian Milfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum):

Eurasian milfoil is considered a noxious weed and is an invasive species. It has long strands of whorled leaves and can create a mat cover of still waters. It mainly grows from broken off shoots (shoot fragments), making it very easy to grow or become established in various locations.

  • Eurasian milfoil has been found on all continents except Australia (although there have been anecdotal sightings there) and Antarctica.

  • The aquatic moth, Acentria ephemerella, eats and damages the milfoil and is used as a biological pest control.

  • “Trailering boats have proven to be a significant vector by which Eurasian Milfoil is able to spread and proliferate across otherwise disconnected bodies of water.”

  • Dense areas of Eurasian milfoil can block sun at depths, which can reduce native photosynthetic species.

Eurasian Water-Milfoil: iNaturalist

Snow Plant (Sarcodes sanguinea):

Snow Plant can be found in shady forested areas close to conifer trees. Every part (except the roots) of the Snow Plant are bright red with a fleshy appearance (looks similar to an asparagus shoot) and can be seen flowering from May to July. John Muir has described this plant as “a bright glowing pillar of fire.”

  • A rough translation of Snow Plants scientific name is “bloody flesh-like thing”

  • Snow Plants do not perform photosynthesis like most plants, and must take their nutrients from fungi living on the roots of conifer trees.

  • Snow Plant is edible and is similar to asparagus in taste and preparation, though due to the relatively rare nature of this plant it is never recommended for use.

  • This plant has also been used medicinally. A decoction (boiled plant material) has been used to treat irritated skins and ulcerated sores.

  • Snow Plant was also ground when dried to treat toothaches and general mouth sores.

“Wild Plants of the Sierra Nevada” by Ray S. Vizgirdas and Edna M. Rey-Vizgirdas.

National Forest Foundation: “Why the Snow Plant is One of the Coolest Things You’ll See on National Forests in California” by Hannah Ettema.

Botanical Society of America: Sarcodes sanguinea.


Cuscuta (Dodders):


Yellow-orange vines twisting around stems of above ground shrubby and herbaceous plants, such as sagebrush or agricultural crops. Stems lack leaves but have small white flowers that grow in clusters fused to the stem.

  • Dodder plants have no roots and little chlorophyll, meaning they depend on their hosts for photosynthates (sugars/food), water, and minerals (aka a holoparasite). 

  • After germinating in the soil, the seedlings can survive for 5-10 days while they “look” for a host plant to climb up. 

  • Dodders have a specialized structures called haustoria, which allows them to tap into the vascular system of the host and collect water, food, and minerals.

Nevada Department of Agriculture: “Parasitic Plant Invading Northwestern Nevada Foliage

Plant diseases caused by parasitic higher plants, invasive climbing plants, and parasitic green algae. Chapter 13. In: Plant Pathology (5th Ed.), Academic Press, N.Y.


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