Some species of dodder are important agricultural pests and have been spread as contaminants in crop seeds. Certain dodders may parasitize crops such as soybeans, alfalfa and clover, melons, tomatoes, asparagus, and more. The parasitism may weaken or kill the host plant and may reduce yields. Also, the parasitism might open the door to other plant diseases or insect pests.
Dodder may parasitize ornamental plants, too, such as petunias, impatiens, chrysanthemums, nasturtiums, and dahlias. If dodder comes up in a place you don’t want it, remove it and the host plant before it sets seed: once in the host plant, it’s hard to kill; and the seeds, once they’re developed, can remain dormant in the soil for many years. In some species and circumstances, dodder seeds may survive in the soil for up to 20 years.
In English, the word dodder is both a noun and a verb. Although they’re spelled the same way today, apparently these began as two different words. The verb, meaning “to wobble weakly or progress feebly,” is from the Middle English dadiren. Linguists call this a frequentive verb, with its repeated “d” sounds and using the same ending as words like teeter, totter, glimmer, putter, and blabber. The noun, referring to the plant, was doder in Middle English and is related to a 13th-century Germanic word toter, which referred to egg yolk as well as the yolk-colored plant.
More word fun: dodders have several other colorful common names in English, including angel hair and witch’s hair; devil’s gut/hair/ringlet; beggarweed, fireweed, goldthread, hairweed, scaldweed, and more. It seems these plants have struck people as bizarre for a long, long time!
Why the name "love vine"? In Native American and pioneer folklore, dodders have been used as a way to determine the faithfulness of one's sweetheart. In some accounts, a piece of dodder is tossed behind one's back; it is later revisited to see if it's become attached to a plant and is still alive — if it is, then the lover is faithful. Vance Randolph reported that in the Ozarks, a young woman simply placed the piece of dodder onto a weed: "if it flourishes, her lover is faithful, and if it withers he is not to be trusted."