Friday, 22 August 2014

Coastal Walk to Corbiere - Gorse Dodder

Gorse Dodder

Gorse Dodder (Cuscata epithymum)

A tangled mass of slender, reddy-coloured threads draped over gorse or heathers; tiny, pale-pink, densely clustered bell-shaped flowers. An annual, parasitic plant, that entwines itself, always anti-clockwise, around the host plant.

Latin Name

In Latin, Cuscuta means Dodder. However, Cuscuta is thought by some to have Arabic origins in the word “Kushkut.” The specific epithet suggests the plant that this dodder was found growing on: Thyme. The Greek prefix “epi“ means upon or over, and “thymum” is Latin for thyme

Other Names

It is also known as Adder’s cotton, Beggarweed, Bride’s laces, Clover devil, Clover dodder, Common dodder, Cuscute du thym (French), Devil’s guts, Devil’s net, Devil’s thread, Dodder of thyme, Epiphany, Fairy hair, Klein Dodder (Afrikaans), Hairweed, Hairy bind, Hellbind, Hellweed, Herbe d'emeute (Channel Islander-Guernsey), Kokotice pov├ízka (Czech), Kuskuto timiana (Esperanto), Lady’s laces, Lesser dodder, Llindag Lleiaf(Welsh), Maiden’s hair, Mulberry, Red tangle, Scald, Scaldweed, Strangle-tare, Strangleweed, and Touothelle (Channel Islander-Jersey Norman-French); and in flower language is said to be a symbol of baseness, and meanness.

Certainly the common names like Bride’s or Lady’s laces are descriptive of the thread-like stems, and Strangle-tare well explains how dodder throttles to death any plants it winds through.


One of the common plants on the property is gorse. Everyone will be familiar with the thorny evergreen gorse shrub with its bright yellow flowers. Gorse begins to flower in late autumn and then flowers through winter. It flowers most strongly in spring. It has a strong scent that smells just like coconut.

But you may see something rather odd—gorse bushes sometimes completely covered with a strange, tangled, mass of red threads. This is gorse dodder.

Gorse dodder is a parasitic annual plant. In spring it starts to grow and twines round any nearby plant. Once it has found a plant to scramble over, the lower stem withers and from then on the dodder is entirely dependent on its host for food. The dodder suckers penetrate the stem of the host and food is “sucked” out of the host.

Dodder grows very quickly and it does not take long for a large gorse bush to be totally covered.

It is a small parasitic plant which contains no chlorophyll, therefore has no green colouration.


Plant parasitism is a type of symbiotic relationship in which plants obtain nutrients directly from another plant. Although parasitic plants are commonly known to lack chlorophyll, some species have green organs.

Dodder is a unique plant because it is a true obligate parasite. That is, dodder’s host receives no benefit whatsoever from dodder and dodder must have its host to survive. Dodder does not have any leaves nor any chlorophyll to produce its own food. It lives by attaching to a host with small appendages (called “haustoria”) and extracting the host plant’s carbohydrates.


Cuscuta epithymum is capable of both cross-pollination and self- pollination. Many different species of insects may contribute to pollination. One study indicated that ants were some of the main pollinators, while another observed visits to the flowers by species of bees, wasps, flies and other insects, collectively from 8 families of insects.

History and Folklore

In medieval times, the health benefits of dodders were believed to be determined by their respective hosts. C. epithymum occurred frequently on thyme. Thus, because thyme was considered – figuratively, not literally – a hot, dry plant, it was believed that C. epithymum was therapeutic because of its warm characteristics. It was also believed that when ground up and mixed with dog blood or other plants, Cuscuta epithymum would help keep an individual safe from evil spirits

Medicinally it was used by herbalists to treat melancholia, fainting, heart complaints, jaundice and kidney ailments

Cuscuta earned the common name “love vine” because of a Native American Pawnee belief. A girl would pluck part of a vine and throw it behind her while thinking of a certain someone. If, on the next day, the parasitic vine had reattached itself, it was a sign that the certain someone would be a good suitor.

Cuscuta epithymum is known in Jersey as “fairies' hair.


Monday, 4 August 2014

Railway Walk - Field Horsetail

Field Horsetail

Field Horsetail

Equisetum arvense, the field horsetail, common horsetail or Mare’s tail is a herbaceous perennial plant, native throughout the arctic and temperate regions of the northern hemisphere.

The Latin root equis and common name horsetail refer to this primitive plant's thin, branchlike leaves, which resemble the coarse hair of a horse's tail. Its other common name, scouring rush, derives from the tough plant's use as a natural scouring pad for pots and pans.

The fertile stems are produced in early spring and are non-photosynthetic, while the green sterile stems start to grow after the fertile stems have wilted, and persist through the summer until the first autumn frosts. It dies back completely in winter.

For the gardener, it is is an invasive, deep-rooted perennial weed that will spread quickly to form a dense carpet of foliage, crowding out less vigorous plants in beds and borders. Roots extend to 2m deep.

Though mostly inhabitants of watery places, flourishing where they can lodge their perennial roots in water or string clay which holds the wet, the Equisetums will grow in a garden near water, under a wall, or in the shade and will spread rapidly.

The Horsetails belong to a class of plants, the Equisetaceae, that has no direct affinity with any other group of British plants. They are nearest allied to the Ferns. Like ferns, field horsetail does not produce flowers or seeds.

The class includes only a single genus, Equisetum, the name derived from the Latin words equus (a horse) and seta (a bristle), from the peculiar bristly appearance of the jointed stems of the plants, which have also earned them their popular names of Horsetail, Bottle-brush and Paddock-pipes.

Other common names are pewter brush, scouring rush, pewterwort, shave grass, bottle-brush, paddock pipes and Dutch rushes. These names refer to the many historical uses of this plant. Because of its abrasive silica content, horsetail was used for polishing a wide variety of materials. In Europe it was used on objects made of pewter. European comb makers polished their wares and dairy maids scrubbed their milk pails with horsetail. It was also used for polishing wood in both Europe and North America.

It is so rough and brittle that it once was used to clean and polish metal instruments and utensils. Its old German name was "tin weed."

Ancient History

Horsetail is a member of the Equisetaceae family; the sole survivor of a line of plants going back three hundred million years. Horsetail is descended from huge, tree like plants that thrived 400 million years ago during the Paleozoic era. These ancient plants that grew as tall as trees during the carboniferous period of prehistoric times and members of this family gave rise to many of our coal deposits.


In the first century AD, Galen described it as cooling and drying to the body. Culpeper, in the 17th century, described it as a hardening medicine, meaning it reduced inflammation and excess moisture in the body.

Since being recommended by the Roman physician Galen, several cultures have employed horsetail as a folk remedy for kidney and bladder troubles, arthritis, bleeding ulcers, and tuberculosis. The Chinese use it to cool fevers and as a remedy for eye inflammations such as conjunctivitis and corneal disorders, dysentery, flu, swellings and hemorrhoids.

Horsetail is an astringent herb and has a diuretic action. It has an affinity for the urinary tract where it can be used to sooth inflammation, haemorrhaging, cystic ulceration, ulcers, cystitis and to treat infections. It is considered a specific remedy in cases of inflammation or benign enlargement of the prostate gland and is also used to quicken the removal of kidney stones.

Horsetail remedies prepared from Equisetum arvense are generally considered safe when used properly. Another species of horsetail, however, called Equisetum palustre is poisonous to horses. To be safe, never take that form of horsetail. Be sure to buy products made by an established company with a good reputation. When possible, select products with guaranteed potency or standardized extracts.

Horsetail must be properly dosed (no more that 2-4g per half litre). Overdoses can be irritating and deplete vitamin B.


Field horsetail is reported as very toxic to livestock. Animals poisoned by this plant are said to have "equisetosis", a phenomenon documented on several continents and throughout the world. In monogastric animals such as horses, consumption of field horsetail can cause vitamin B1 deficiency. This species also contains high levels of toxic alkaloids. Sheep and cattle are more likely to be poisoned by fresh plants, while horses are more susceptible to poisoning from contaminated hay. General symptoms of poisoning include weakness, lack of coordination, and difficulty breathing.


In the days when blacksmiths were closely allied with alchemists and knew some of their secrets, Horsetail was valued for giving magical strength to weapons and armour

Strange but True

Field horsetail may accumulate more gold than any other plant. Up to 4 1/2 ounces of gold per ton of fresh plant material has been recovered. Mining engineers consider field horsetail an indicator species of gold, but not a viable commercial source.