Annual parasitic vine over 50 cm long Stem: yellow, coarse, climbing on other plants and attaching to them with specialized outgrowths (haustoria) which invade tissue of the host plant to absorb food. Leaves: alternate, orange or pinkish yellow, very small, scale-like. Flowers: many, stalkless, whitish, tiny, 2 - 2.5 mm tall, radially symmetric, cylindric or bell-shaped with four, erect, short petal lobes. The flowers are arranged in short-stalked, tight, compact, rounded clusters all along the stem. Sepals: four, but fused for up to half their length, then separating into four, basally overlapping, rounded or blunt lobes which are much shorter than the petal tube. Petals: four, but fused for most of their length (and beyond sepal lobes), then separating into four, erect, short, rounded or blunt (never pointed) lobes. Stamens: four, attached to inside top of petal tube alternating the petal lobes, with short filaments, and the anthers not extending much beyond petal tube. Pistil: with one, two-chambered, superior ovary; and two, 0.5 - 1.5 mm long styles which end in rounded stigmas. Fruit: small, about 3 mm tall, somewhat rounded, one- or two-seeded, membranous capsules. The withered petal tube separates from the flower base, but remains attached to the top of the capsule like a cap.
Similar species: Cuscuta cephalanthi is most similar to C. polygonorum and C. coryli, but both of those species differ by having pointed petal lobes. The remaining species of Cuscuta in the Chicago Region have flowers with five sepals, five petals, and five stamens.
Flowering: July to September
Habitat and ecology: Somewhat frequent, locally in low or wet ground such as fens, moist prairies, floodplains, or marshes, and often found growing on Cephalanthus occidentalis (buttonbush).
Occurence in the Chicago region: native
Notes: The Cuscutaceae family has only one genus, Cuscuta. The family has often been treated as a subfamily of the Convolvulaceae family since their flower structures are very similar despite their size differences. However, the two families have distinct chemical properties as well as the obvious differences in life style of non-chlorophyll producing, parasitic vines, versus independent, photosynthesizing, green vines and herbs.
Etymology: Cuscuta is an ancient Latin name for dodder, probably of Arabic origin. Cephalanthi means "of Cephalanthus", a genus in the Rubiaceae family, most likely referring to C. occidentalis, the buttonbush, which has tight round clusters of flowers, and upon which this species often grows.
Fls mostly 4-merous, 2-2.5 mm, sessile or subsessile in compact glomerules; cal shorter than the cor-tube, its lobes obtuse, strongly overlapping basally; cor cylindric-campanulate, the erect or spreading lobes obtuse or broadly rounded, shorter than the tube; styles 0.5-1.5 mm; stigma capitate; fr 3 mm, globose or depressed-globose, closely invested by the persistent, withered, eventually calyptrate cor; seeds 1-2, 1.5-2 mm; 2n=60. Me. to Wash., s. to Fla. and N.M.
Gleason, Henry A. & Cronquist, Arthur J. 1991. Manual of vascular plants of northeastern United States and adjacent Canada. lxxv + 910 pp.
This species prefers plants of low ground for hosts. The host plants of my specimens are as follows: 7 on Aster, 1 on Cephalanthus, 1 on Dianthera, 1 on Physostegia, 1 on Rhus, 3 on Salix, and 1 on Teucrium.