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Entwining wonder

Like a parasite, `Cuscuta reflexa' makes a tangled mass of the host plant it twines


WITH ITS 2.5mm diameter, yellow-coloured, nylon string-like long stems, Cuscuta reflexa is a twining parasite and makes a tangled mass covering the host plants.

Besides Bougainvillea, the plant is often seen on the hedge plant Dodonea Viscasa, trees like Cassia Siamea, Lannea Coromandelica and climbers like (Dondakai in Telugu), Kovakkai (in Tamil) Coccinea indica. The plant is commonly known as Dodder.

The total absence of leaves or chlorophyll makes the plant entirely dependent on the host. Though the plant belongs to the colourful Convolvulaceae, the family of morning glory, it produces only tiny white flowers in clusters from December to March. Fruits of the plant are small without cotyledons. The fruit fallen on the ground develops a root. The growing plant stem rotates in the air and when it comes into contact with a suitable plant, it twines around it. From its stem, the developing plant then produces special roots called haustoria (sucking roots) that enter the stems of the host plant and draw nourishment. The first formed small root soon disappears and Cuscuta reflexa becomes fully supported by the host.

As the plant disconnects all contact with the earth, and on the host it looks as if it has fallen from the sky, it is called Akasavalli in Tamil. Bits of the plant falling on host plants can also grow and develop.

To remove the plant, effected parts of the host should be chopped off and burnt. The plant should not be allowed to flower and fruit. Birds and small animals like squirrels also play a part in the dispersal of the plant.

The plant, in indigenous medicine, is a purgative and is also used externally to cure itching.

CHITRA RADHAKRISHNAN

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