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Home » Santa Clarita News » Environment » SCV Outdoor Report » SCV Outdoor Report: Scratch And Sniff

SCV Outdoor Report: Scratch And Sniff

By: Wendy Langhans


Sometimes it’s the things we avoid that have the most to teach us.



The parasitic dodder weaves a tangled web of tendrils around the host plants.

Take for example, the parasite dodder; when I point it out to people on the trail, most wrinkle their nose and grimace. 


We give it ugly names such as “Witch’s hair” and “Strangleweed”.  The names are aptly descriptive, since dodder is a parasitic plant that wraps it stringy orange tendrils around the host plant while stealing its water and nutrients.  


So who knew such an unsavory parasite could challenge our assumptions about the natural world?


  • We assume that plants do not communicate with each other.  But did you know that dodder can “wiretap” its host plant?  We know that plants use RNA molecules to deliver messages to various parts of the plant.  Dodder intercepts these RNA molecules by puncturing the stem of the host plant with “haustoria” (modified roots) and connecting with the host’s xylem and phloem (transport tissues), where water and nutrients are transported throughout the plant.  Dr. N. Sinha at U.C. Davis hypothesizes that dodder decodes the host’s RNA-based chemical messages to “synchronize its lifecycle with that of the host plant”. 



Dodders have tiny white blossoms. Photo by S. Ioerger.

Synchronization offers certain benefits.  For example, it makes sense for the dodder to bloom when the host plant is blooming, so it can cash in on the pollinators visiting the host plant.  We see this same principle at work when TV executives sell spots for broadcasting TV commercials; they charge more for the Superbowl than a pre-season game.


  • We assume that only animals can detect odors. But did you know that dodder can “sniff out” host plants?  Dodder seedlings can only survive a few days without finding a host plant, so there not much time for random searches.  According to researchers at Penn State, one way they locate a host is by detecting the volatile chemicals produced by the plant. 


The next time you’re near a tomato plant, give it a sniff and you’ll see what I mean.  Or better still – sniff a few different varieties of tomatoes at the grocery store or farmer’s market.  All things being equal, which one will you take home with you?


The answer should be obvious.  After all, aren’t you smarter than dodder?



Upcoming Outdoor Events: 


Saturday, August 9, 8:30 AM.  Hike in Whitney Canyon.

For map and directions, click here

For more information, contact

Sponsored by the Community Hiking Club.


Saturday, August 16, 7:30-9:30 PM.  Full Moon Hike in Towsley Canyon.

For map and directions, click here

Sponsored by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.


Saturdays, August 9 and 23, and every Wednesday, 8:00 am.  Trail Maintenance Volunteers at Towsley Canyon.

Come join our trail maintenance volunteers for camaraderie and a heart-thumping workout.  For more information contact Steve Ioerger at 661-291-1565.

Sponsored by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.


Through the end of August. Wildlands of the Santa Clara River Watershed.  Valencia Public Library. 

Come to the library to see a visual and educational exhibit about our Santa Clara River Watershed and the 100 endangered, sensitive or threatened species that live in our valley.

Sponsored by South Coast Wildlands, Visual Journey’s and the Santa Clara River Trustee Council.

You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on “The Hike Report”, brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.


For the complete MRCA hike and activity schedule and for trail maps, click here or go to



SCV Outdoor Report: Scratch And Sniff

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