Susan and Dodder in Winter

by Carl Strang

Today’s winter botany focus is on two quite different plants. First up is the familiar black-eyed Susan.

The plant loses its leaves in winter, but the heads persist to draw the eye.

The plant loses its leaves in winter, but the heads persist to draw the eye.

Those heads are what remain of the flowers, whose yellow rays are perhaps their most memorable feature.

Remember me?

Remember me?

Up close, the winter heads have a complex and beautiful structure.

The rounded cone is composed of little spiky units arranged in a spiral, and I especially like the fringed bracts around the base.

The rounded cone is composed of little spiky units arranged in a spiral, and I especially like the fringed bracts around the base.

The other plant is one I have not yet photographed in the growing season. Imagine a slender orange leafless twining vine. That’s what the dodders are. They are flowering plants, but they are parasites. There are several species that specialize to some degree according to habitat and/or the host plant species whose roots they invade for nutrients. They don’t photosynthesize, and so need neither leaves nor chlorophyll. I found one to photograph on the fence bounding the off-leash dog area at Mayslake Forest Preserve.

The oval pods and the 5-parted base point to common dodder.

The oval pods and the 5-parted base point to common dodder.

Common dodder has a long list of potential hosts. Usually it occurs in wet soil, and the photographed location frequently is ponded.

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