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21 November 2019

Cuscuta europaea (European dodder)

Datasheet Types: Pest, Natural enemy, Invasive species


This datasheet on Cuscuta europaea covers Identity, Overview, Distribution, Dispersal, Hosts/Species Affected, Diagnosis, Biology & Ecology, Environmental Requirements, Natural Enemies, Impacts, Uses, Prevention/Control, Further Information.


Preferred Scientific Name
Cuscuta europaea L. (1753)
Preferred Common Name
European dodder
Other Scientific Names
Cuscuta halophyta Fr. (1832)
Cuscuta laxiflora Aznav., non Benth. (1905)
Cuscuta major DC. (1671)
Cuscuta viciae W.D.J. Koch, Schnitzl. & Schönh. (1853)
International Common Names
greater dodder
cuscute d'Europe
Local Common Names
ou zhou to si zi
Czech Republic
kokotice evropska
Europäische Seide
groot warkruid
cabellos de venus
EPPO code
CVCEU (Cuscuta europaea)


C. europaea flowering on Artemisia vulgaris. Bhutan, 1991.
Flowering stage
C. europaea flowering on Artemisia vulgaris. Bhutan, 1991.
©Chris Parker/Bristol, UK
C. europaea: close-up of flowers on Artemisia vulgaris. Bhutan, 1991.
C. europaea: close-up of flowers on Artemisia vulgaris. Bhutan, 1991.
©Chris Parker/Bristol, UK

Summary of Invasiveness

C. europaea has not proved to be a highly invasive species, but there are very significant risks of accidental introduction with contaminated crop seed and any such introduction could cause serious crop damage, and prejudice options for trading crop produce.

Taxonomic Tree

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Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

While the genus Cuscuta is still considered here to belong in the distinct family Cuscutaceae, the parasitic plant website Parasitic Plant Connection (2003) places Cuscuta in the sub-family Cuscutoideae within Convolvulaceae and the validity of this has recently been supported by Stefanovich et al. (2002) who conclude from DNA studies that Cuscuta is 'nested within Convolvulaceae' and should not be separated into its own family. Many synonyms have been applied to C. europaea, but none are any longer in common use. Yuncker (1932), who lists many synonyms, recognizes two varieties, var. indica and var. conocarpa, but Feinbrun (1970) concludes that although the species shows some variation it is not sufficiently consistent to allow delineation of subspecies or varieties.

Plant Type

Vine / climber
Seed propagated
Vegetatively propagated


Cuscuta species are obligate parasites with negligible chlorophyll and leaves reduced to minute scales on a glabrous stem which twines around the shoots and leaves of suitable host plants. In C. europaea the stems are yellowish, orange or reddish, filiform, about 1 mm in diameter. Inflorescences are lateral, compact clusters, about 10 mm diameter, of few to many flowers each on pedicels up to 1.5 mm. Calyx cup-shaped with 4 or 5 sepals, triangular ovate, obtuse, about 1.5 mm long. Corolla of 4 or 5 triangular-ovate lobes, pink, 2.5-3 mm long, often reflexed. Stamens have filaments longer than the ovate-circular anthers. Scales very thin obovate, 2-cleft or entire. Styles 2 with filiform divergent stigmas about as long as the styles. Mature capsule capped by the withered corolla, sub-globose, about 3 mm in diameter, circumscissile. Seeds usually 4, pale brown, elliptic, about 1 mm, scabrous (from Fang Rhui-cheng et al., 1995).Fritsche et al. (1958) provide detailed descriptions of the anatomy and morphology of C. europaea.


C. europaea has a much wider native distribution than its name implies, occurring through much of south temperate Asia, to India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and China, as well as being widely distributed in Europe.

Distribution Map

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Distribution Table

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History of Introduction and Spread

Occurrence of C. europaea in N. America must be a result of introduction but its history is not readily traced.

Risk of Introduction

All Cuscuta species are frequently listed as prohibited, quarantine species. Holm et al. (1997) indicate that 25 countries have declared Cuscuta spp. as noxious, and that the movement of Cuscuta-infested material is prohibited in every state of the USA.Dry heat at 100°C for 15 minutes has been shown to selectively kill seeds of Cuscuta spp. in nigerseed (Guizotia abyssinica) (Strasser, 1988) providing a means of de-contaminating contaminated imports, but it is not certain that this is being used in practice.

Means of Movement and Dispersal

Natural Dispersal (Non-Biotic)Natural, non-biotic, dispersal of Cuscuta seed is very limited and must occur mainly by water.Vector Transmission (Biotic)Animals may help spread of Cuscuta on an occasional basis following ingestion, or by transfer of soil containing the seeds.Agricultural PracticesMan is by far the most important dispersal agent, thanks to the harvesting and transport of crop material contaminated with vines and seeds of Cuscuta, and by movement of soil on farm machinery.Accidental IntroductionAccidental introduction across national boundaries can quite readily occur when Cuscuta seed is a contaminant of crop seed, as it may well be in seed of clovers or lucerne.Intentional IntroductionIntentional introduction is relatively unlikely, though any Cuscuta species could occasionally be regarded as a botanical curiosity and introduced for this reason.

Plant Trade

Plant parts liable to carry the pest in trade/transportPest stagesBorne internallyBorne externallyVisibility of pest or symptoms
weeds/whole plants
Fruits (inc. pods)
Growing medium accompanying plants
True seeds (inc. grain)
Plant parts not known to carry the pest in trade/transport
Seedlings/Micropropagated plants

Hosts/Species Affected

Although C. europaea is recorded as a serious weed in several countries (Holm et al., 1979), the range of crops affected is not well documented. Recent literature confirms sugarbeet as a major host in Italy (Rapparini and Campagna, 1998). It is otherwise recorded as occurring on a wide range of hosts with little apparent host specificity, though Urtica dioica is noted as a particularly favoured host (Koskela et al., 2001) and Fang Rhui-cheng et al. (1995) indicate Asteraceae, Fabaceae and Chenopodiaceae as the families most affected. In Lithuania, it occurs on 34 plant species, the most intensive growth being observed on Urtica dioica, Aegopodium podagraria, Fraxinus excelsior, Lamium album, Solidago canadensis and raspberry. Almost 3 times as many, and also larger, inflorescences were observed on U. dioica than on raspberry and A. podagraria (Gal'vidis, 1993).

Host Plants and Other Plants Affected

HostFamilyHost statusReferences
Aegopodium podagraria (ground elder (UK))ApiaceaeWild host 
Allium cepa (onion)LiliaceaeMain 
Alnus (alders)BetulaceaeWild host 
Artemisia vulgaris (mugwort)AsteraceaeWild host 
Astragalus stipulatusFabaceaeWild host 
Beta vulgaris (beetroot)ChenopodiaceaeMain 
Crataegus monogyna (hawthorn)RosaceaeWild host 
Humulus lupulus (hop)CannabaceaeOther 
Mentha (mints)LamiaceaeWild host 
Rubus idaeus (raspberry)RosaceaeOther 
Salix (willows)SalicaceaeWild host 
Urtica dioica (stinging nettle)UrticaceaeWild host 
Vicia faba (faba bean)FabaceaeOther 
Vicia sativa (common vetch)FabaceaeOther 

Growth Stages

Flowering stage
Fruiting stage
Vegetative growing stage

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

Cuscuta species are all superficially very similar and difficult to separate without careful study of floral characteristics. C. europaea is in section Cuscuta, characterized by two styles with linear stigmas. Other sections have a single style (Monogyna) or capitate stigmas (Grammica). A number of other weedy species occur in section Cuscuta. Several of those, including C. planiflora and C. palaestina have sessile flowers, while C. epithymum has acute sepals; C. epilinum, occurring only on flax/linseed, has large flower heads over 15 mm across. C. pedicellata also has pedicillate flowers but the capsules are not circumcissile.Severova (1991) describes a range of characters useful for distinguishing different Cuscuta spp., including C. europaea. The most comprehensive key is provided by Yuncker (1932). Keys to the European species are provided in Flora Europaea (Valentine, 1972) and by Feinbrun (1970).


C. europaea occurs on a wide range of hosts over a considerable range of soils and climates, temperate and sub-tropical. Provided suitable hosts are present there seems little to restrict its distribution outside the tropics.

Habitat List

CategorySub categoryHabitatPresenceStatus
TerrestrialTerrestrial – ManagedCultivated / agricultural landPresent, no further detailsHarmful (pest or invasive)
TerrestrialTerrestrial – ManagedDisturbed areasPresent, no further detailsHarmful (pest or invasive)
TerrestrialTerrestrial – ManagedRail / roadsidesPresent, no further detailsHarmful (pest or invasive)
TerrestrialTerrestrial – ManagedUrban / peri-urban areasPresent, no further detailsHarmful (pest or invasive)
TerrestrialTerrestrial ‑ Natural / Semi-naturalRiverbanksPresent, no further detailsHarmful (pest or invasive)
TerrestrialTerrestrial ‑ Natural / Semi-naturalWetlandsPresent, no further detailsHarmful (pest or invasive)

Biology and Ecology

GeneticsChromosome number 2n = 14.Physiology and PhenologyCuscuta species are obligate parasites with negligible chlorophyll, totally dependent on attachment to a host plant within a few days after germination. Germination does not depend on the presence of host plants but occurs over a prolonged period as there is a proportion of hard-coated seeds which gradually become permeable and allow absorption of water. This ensures that not too many seeds germinate at one time in the possible absence of a potential host plant. In many species, there is also an innate dormancy which is broken by chilling over the winter. In eastern Lithuania, germination of C. europaea was shown to be abundant after rain at the end of May and beginning of June when the sum of effective temperatures exceeded 250°C (Gal'vidis, 1993). On germination a very short root is formed which provides anchorage only, while the plumule elongates rapidly and, in the light, circumnutates widely anticlockwise until contact is made with a stem or other solid object. The length of the seedling rarely exceeds 10 cm and if a host is not located, the seedling dies within a few days. Once contact with a stem or other object is made, the shoot will twine around it, whether living or inanimate and the root and shoot base below this point will soon die. The coiling action requires blue or far-red light and is suppressed under red light or darkness. If a suitable host stem is found, several coils will develop, with pre-haustorial swellings on the inner face of the coiled stem, from which full haustoria develop in the presence of cytokinins, which derive partly from the parasite and partly from the host. Intrusive organs develop from the haustorium and searching hyphae penetrate the host tissues by a combination of separation and penetration of cells (these processes are reviewed by Parker and Riches, 1993). Connections are then formed by a bridge of tracheids with the host xylem, while connection with the phloem via plasmodesmata between searching hyphae and host parenchyma cells has also been confirmed by Dorr (1987). Once the haustorial connection is complete, new shoot buds develop close by. While some Cuscuta species, notably C. reflexa, have measurable levels of chlorophyll and photosynthesis, Machado and Zetsche (1990) failed to find either in C. europaea, and further development is completely at the host's expense. Vegetative growth may continue for some time before any flowers are formed, or flowering may occur very rapidly. Flowering is thought by some authors to be linked to the flowering of the host plant but this is not apparently consistent.Fritsche et al. (1958) provide detailed observations on the growth and flowering of C. europaea. Reproductive BiologyCuscuta species are propagated mainly by seed, though individual plants may spread vegetatively over many separate host plants. Stem fragments may also be able to establish new plants, though it is not known whether this can occur with C. europaea. There are no specialized dispersal methods for Cuscuta species and without the assistance of man or animals, it is presumed to depend on soil or water movement (Dawson et al., 1994.) Environmental RequirementsThe mainly temperate distribution of C. europaea suggests that this species is dependent on a cool or cold winter period for 'stratification' and breakage of seed dormancy. There is no evidence of association with particular soil types, or level of soil fertility, nor any requirement for especially moist or dry conditions.

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude lower (m)Altitude upper (m)

Air Temperature

ParameterLower limit (°C)Upper limit (°C)
Mean annual temperature822
Mean maximum temperature of hottest month1739
Mean minimum temperature of coldest month-109


ParameterLower limitUpper limitDescription
Dry season duration09number of consecutive months with <40 mm rainfall
Mean annual rainfall2501200mm; lower/upper limits

Rainfall Regime


Soil Tolerances

Soil texture > light
Soil texture > medium
Soil texture > heavy
Soil reaction > acid
Soil reaction > neutral
Soil reaction > alkaline
Soil drainage > free
Soil drainage > impeded
Special soil tolerances > shallow
Special soil tolerances > infertile

List of Pests

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Natural enemy of

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Notes on Natural Enemies

A number of insects are known to attack Cuscuta species. Melanagromyza cuscutae is a fly whose larvae mine the stems, and attempts to use this species as a means of biological control of C. europaea by augmentative release have been made in Kazakhstan (Julien and Griffiths, 1998). A number of the gall-forming Smicronyx species attack many species of Cuscuta, and S. jungermanniae and S. tartaricus are both recorded on C. europaea in Kazakhstan and in the former Yugoslavia (Shinkarenko, 1982b; Parker and Riches, 1993). Shinkarenko (1982a) records a wider range of insects attacking a number of Cuscuta spp. in Kazakhstan but it is not clear which were recorded from C. europaea. Anderson (1974) first described some of the Smicronyx species listed on Cuscuta.

Natural enemies

Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Melanagromyza cuscutaeHerbivore
Smicronyx ghaniiHerbivore
Smicronyx jungermanniaeHerbivore
Smicronyx parafasciatusHerbivore
Smicronyx tartaricusHerbivore

Impact Summary

Animal/plant collectionsNone
Animal/plant productsNone
Biodiversity (generally)None
Crop productionNegative
Environment (generally)None
Fisheries / aquacultureNone
Forestry productionNone
Human healthNone
Livestock productionNone
Native faunaNone
Native floraNone
Rare/protected speciesNone
Trade/international relationsNegative


Holm et al. (1979) list C. europaea as a 'serious' weed in Afghanistan and Poland, and a 'principal' weed in Czechoslovakia and the former USSR. It is rarely a major weed over large areas, perhaps because of the lack of attack on Gramineae [Poaceae], and the cleaning effect of cereal crops in rotation. But once contact is established with the host phloem, Cuscuta becomes a powerful sink for metabolites, causing a severe drain on host resources and often completely preventing normal fruit development, as shown by Wolswinkel (1979) for C. europaea on faba bean (Vicia faba). Owing to this powerful metabolic sink effect, studied and described in detail by Wolswinkel and Ammerlaan (1983), the damage to infected hosts can be severe, to the extent of total crop loss. Less dry matter and ash were found in the leaves of parasitized Urtica dioica and Aegopodium podagraria than in those of healthy plants. Leaves of parasitized U. dioica plants contained 8.5% less chlorophyll than uninfested ones (Gal'vidis, 1993). Perhaps the crop most seriously affected is sugarbeet in Italy, the former Yugoslavia and eastern Europe. There is also further economic loss when crop produce, such as clover or lucerne seed, intended for export, is rejected or has to be expensively cleaned.There are occasional reports of toxicity to livestock from Cuscuta species, including toxicity to horses from C. europaea (Pergat and Stolyarova, 1961).

Impact: Environmental

C. europaea is not known to have caused any significant environmental impact.

Impact: Biodiversity

C. europaea is not known to have caused any significant impact on biodiversity.

Impact: Social

C. europaea is not known to have caused any significant social impact.

Risk and Impact Factors


Proved invasive outside its native range
Highly adaptable to different environments
Has high reproductive potential
Has propagules that can remain viable for more than one year

Impact outcomes

Negatively impacts agriculture

Impact mechanisms

Competition - monopolizing resources

Likelihood of entry/control

Highly likely to be transported internationally accidentally
Difficult to identify/detect as a commodity contaminant
Difficult/costly to control


Cuscuta species are frequently used as a research tool, to create a bridge between different plants for transmission of viruses and mycoplasma-like organisms from one host to another (see Dawson et al., 1994). Eppler (1992) reports on the use of C. europaea to obtain transmission of a virus in hops (Humulus lupulus).C. europaea has recently been reported to be a source of an immuno-stimulant compound of pharmacological interest (Stanilova at al., 2001).

Prevention and Control

Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.

Cultural Control

Use of clean crop seed is vital. Seed crops which might have been infested should be inspected and cleaned if necessary, or seed should be obtained from a source known to be reliable. Separation of Cuscuta seeds from lucerne is quite successfully achieved by equipment comprising felt- or velvet-covered rollers to which the rough seeds of Cuscuta stick while the smoother crop seeds pass over (see Dawson et al., 1994).Rotation with non-susceptible crops can be helpful. Cereals are virtually immune, but some broad-leaved crops may also be sufficiently resistant, including soyabean, kidney bean (Phaseolus vulgaris), squash (Cucurbita sp.), cucumber and cotton (see Parker and Riches, 1993).Deep shade suppresses the coiling and attachment of Cuscuta; hence encouraging a dense crop canopy is a valuable component of any integrated control programme.

Mechanical Control

The young seedlings of Cuscuta, with rudimentary roots, are readily destroyed by shallow tillage before or after crop establishment. Hand-pulling is suitable only for scattered infestations as the infested crop plants have to be removed with the parasite. Scattered infestations of C. campestris have also been controlled by heat, using a hand-held flame gun. More extensive infestations of that species in lucerne are also sometimes treated with overall flaming, as the crop is able to recover. Close mowing is an alternative means of control in lucerne and clovers.

Chemical Control

There is relatively little information on the use of herbicides against C. europaea but good results have been reported for ethofumesate in sugar beet; propyzamide in sugar beet and onions; and a mixture of chlorthal-dimethyl with chlorpropham in onions and carrots (Foschi and Rapparini, 1977; Rapparini and Campagna, 1998). Other herbicides of value in the control of other Cuscuta species, especially C. campestris, include metham-sodium and dazomet as pre-planting fumigants, trifluralin and related compounds, pendimethalin, fluchloralin, butralin etc, in lucerne and some other legumes. These might be expected to be equally effective against C. europaea.

Biological Control

Biological control of C. europaea has been attempted in Kazakhstan, by augmentative release of Melanagromyza cuscutae but the outcome is not certain (Julien and Griffiths, 1998). This insect has also failed to give convincing results on other Cuscuta spp. The biology and host range of M. cuscutae were studied by Baloch et al. (1967) and reviewed by Spencer (1973). Other attempts at biological control of Cuscuta spp. by insects have mainly involved the gall-forming weevils Smicronyx spp.; S. tartaricus has given encouraging results for control of C. europaea in Kazakhstan when introduced from one region to another (Shinkarenko, 1982b), while among pathogens, Alternaria cuscutacidae and a form of Colletotrichum gloeosporioides [Glomerella cingulata] have given helpful results against C. chinensis and C. australis (Parker and Riches, 1993; Julien and Griffiths, 1998). Prospects for biological control of C. europaea and other Cuscuta spp. have been reviewed by Girling et al. (1979).

Integrated Control

Integrated methods for control of Cuscuta species generally involve the all-important use of clean seed; good field hygiene to eradicate scattered infestations before they get out of control; good control of other weeds which might act as reservoirs of infestation; timing of tillage and planting to maximize destruction of parasite seedlings before sowing; and optimum planting arrangement and growing conditions for a good crop canopy to suppress development of the weed.


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