Cuscuta pentagona (Field Dodder)

Plant Info
Also known as: Prairie Dodder, Five-angled Dodder, Bushclover Dodder
Family:Convolvulaceae (Morning Glory)
Life cycle:annual
  • Prohibited or Restricted species
Habitat:part shade, sun; sandy soil; prairies, fields, stream banks, waste areas
Bloom season:July - August
Plant height:3 to 4 foot vine
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 5-petals Flower shape: bell Cluster type: panicle Cluster type: round

[photo of flowers] Small clusters of short stalked white flowers, less than 1/10 inch long with 5 fused petals, the triangular lobes about as long as the floral tube, spreading to bent back (reflexed), the tips sharply pointed and often curved up (inflexed). The calyx lobes are broadly triangular, often wider than long, typically as long as the floral tube and distinctly angled or knobby where they overlap at their base. In the center of the corolla tube is the globe shaped ovary with two styles, shorter than the surrounding 5 stamens but with a prominent round stigma at their tip (capitate), the ovary depressed around their base. Stamens are attached to the petal far below the base of the sinus between the petal lobes, and barely extend past the mouth of the tube. Hidden inside the floral tube, surrounding the ovary, are fringed scales that are shorter than the stamens.

Leaves and stems:

[photo of stem] Leaves are tiny and scale-like or absent altogether. Stems are hairless and slender, typically yellow to bright orange, forming wiry masses that twist around and are supported by the host plant. Along the stem are small appendages (haustoria), modified roots that penetrate the host plant and draw moisture and nutrients from it.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of fruit] Fruit is nearly round (globose), around 1/10 inch in diameter, depressed in the center, the base cupped by the withered flower, the stamens often persistent.


Field dodder is one of nine Cuscuta species either present (6) or historically documented (3) in Minnesota. It is distinguished from other 5-petaled Dodders by its flowers with sharply pointed tips that are often inflexed, and the angled or knobby calyx lobes. In specific regard to the weediness of C. pentagona is this quote from a research paper on the integrated management of it in crops: "Cuscuta pentagona, also known as bush-clover dodder, field dodder, five-angled dodder, and lespedeza dodder, is the most widespread and aggressive Cuscuta species in the world (Holm et al. 1997; Lanini and Kogan 2005; Parker and Wilson 1986). In various parts of the world it is considered a serious pest of alfalfa, cabbage, peppers, potatoes, carrots, onions, tomatoes, beans, peas, safflower, sugar and garden beets and other vegetable crops". That being said, In my nearly 40 years of work in horticulture and agricultural pest survey in Minnesota, I've personally never seen a weedy infestation on anything. In my ten years of intensive photographic field work on native wildflowers, I've only encountered C. pentagona four times in natural habitats and all four populations have been quite small.

All dodders are obligate parasites - that is they must obtain all their life support from a host species to grow and reproduce. When a dodder seedling germinates, it must quickly contact a suitable host upon which it immediately begins to twine around the host plant's stem, invading its tissure with "haustoria" that tap into the host's vascular system for moisture and nutrients, the initial seedling root quickly withers away. As the stems grow, they contact and invade more stems, even crossing over and connect to other suitable host species. While most dodders are associated with broad host range, some are fairly specialized to only a few species. All species of dodder are on the federal noxious weed list except for a number of natives (and several non-natives that are now wide spread), includng all species found in Minnesota. Still all dooders are "regulated" requiring federal permits for importation or transportation of seed.

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More photos

Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Dakota, Renville and Rock counties.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Bonnie - Minnetonka - Hennepin County
on: 2016-08-02 11:38:48

This has shown up in our prairie planting at least 3 times in the last 5 years. It has killed many asters, goldenrods, monardas, etc. We have spent days hand-pulling it and cutting off plant tops infested with it. I contacted the USDA and no one in the Country seems to have an antidote for it. Really hard to watch the damage it does. The Minnesota Department of Ag. has no regulatory interest in it or solution for it.

Posted by: Nancy B - Carleton Arboretum, Rice County
on: 2017-08-01 16:57:08

We find this plant occasionally in our prairie restorations; this year we found a patch of it growing on two species of goldenrod: Solidago canadensis and S. rigida. We have plenty of goldenrod and find this plant interesting and a nice addition to the biodiversity of our prairies.

Posted by: Carol Bemis - Golden Valley
on: 2018-08-29 19:06:38

I have an infestation of dodder on my Giant Sunflowers (Helianthus giganteus) It is thick, pulling theses giant stalks down. The dodder is now full of seeds. We have entire yard of prairie. This is present on the shoreline.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2018-08-29 19:19:27

We had some dodder in our garden, hosting on sawtooth sunflower, H. grosseratus. After a couple years it started overtaking the garden so we yanked it out. Haven't seen it since.

Posted by: Trisha - Anoka County
on: 2021-07-12 13:28:58

I've been dealing with this vine for three years. I have not seen it prior to that. It has taken over an area of my property that I am trying to naturalize. It kills everything it touches. The manual pulling of this plant is going to take hours, but it is seemingly the only solution.

Posted by: Kathleen Seal - Minneapolis
on: 2021-07-15 18:25:54

Does anyone know if something...insect etc., lives off any of the Dodders?

Posted by: Melody Morrell - Brook Park
on: 2021-07-24 14:11:40

Interesting study on dodder from 2017 by Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology: "Dodder: A parasite involved in the plant alarm system: Host plants communicate warning signals through a parasite network, when insects attack."

Posted by: Mike - Bloomington
on: 2023-05-29 10:57:19

I found some of this intertwined in the deepest part of my native garden last year. It caused me to remove and destroy 6x6 square feet of garden initially and then more later as additional strands appeared near the original patch. Hopefully it never went to seed but I've since seen two additional patches in the area around Normandale Lake.

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