The Golden Dodder in Catherine Chalkley’s garden.
GARDENING DODDER is a name beloved of my youth and, thereafter, my children in their earlier years.
He was one of the central gnome characters in a book which charmed me as a youngster and went on to enthrall my daughters at story-time when I read it to them.
But it never occurred to me, and it certainly should have, that Dodder, together with his diminutive compatriots, Sneezewort and Cloudberry — the last gnomes in all England — had the name of a plant.
Dodder, which is native to these shores, is also known as Beggarweed, Hellweed, Strangle Tare, Scaldweed and Devil’s Guts.
Dodder (the gnome) was not nearly as bad as his pseudonyms may suggest in The Little Grey Men — which I commend to all parents and grandparents of young children — but the plant is less than popular because of its parasitic habit.
However, a plant of the same family has proved a bit of a draw for expert plant people down at Wootton Common.
Golden Dodder (Cuscuta campestris) has turned up in the garden of one of the work colleagues of the Island’s senior ecology officer, Dr Colin Pope, who I frequently ask to identify alien garden invaders.
Catherine Chalkley has just one of those — and the perfect person to quickly identify it was Dr Pope.
The plant is a strange one because it is a parasitic plant without any chlorophyll.
It sprang up beneath a bird feeder in their garden after they put out niger seed to attract goldfinches. The seed batch was clearly contaminated with white-seeded dodder among the dark niger.
Colin asked Eric Clement to have a look at it.
Eric lives in Gosport and is a national expert on introduced and alien plants. He was thrilled because he had never seen it before — and he has seen all sorts in his time.
Colin said: "Eric told me most of the niger seed crop is grown in Ethiopia and the contaminated batch is likely to come from there.
"Golden Dodder is a North American plant where it can cause economic damage to crop plants but it has hardly ever been seen in this country and is unlikely to become a problem plant here.
"Catherine and her mum, Pam, were at first concerned it might take over the garden but I have assured her this is unlikely. I think they are quite enjoying the visits by botanists."
Handily, the ever opportunistic dodder has latched onto niger plants on which to feed. They have also germinated beneath Catherine’s feeder in the bird-fertilised soil.
Should you ever need to know, and I very much doubt it — although no pub quiz knowledge is wasted — Cascuta comes from the Arabic word meaning 'to bend’ and refers to the twining habit of the stems.
Dodder is from the German word for egg yolk and refers to the yellow stem colour.
Its other names include Beggar Vine, Love Vine and, similarly to its UK compatriot, Strangleweed.
It is a relative of our native bindweed but this leafless vine has yellow to orange stems that twine around the host plant.
It then attaches suckers (haustoria) to remove nutrients. It has tiny, white to cream bell-shaped flowers in dense clusters, miniature versions of our own convolvulus blooms.
It is unsurprising it contaminated the niger seed batch because, while it may be only a diminutive vine, it produces huge amounts of seed for its size — literally many thousands per plant.