Sep 26, 2005, 9:37 PM
Copy of an article I wrote several years ago - relevant part highlighted in bold:
MEXICO'S ORANGE-COLORED PARASITIC PLANTS
There are numerous flowering parasitic plants in Mexico. Parasitic plants are those which live off the host plant and ultimately kill them, as opposed to epiphytes which live on them with no deleterious effects. Two genera of parasitic plants are particularly common and distinctive. Both are bright orange in color, and both can be seen in the vicinity of Lake Chapala.
The first is Cuscuta, also known as "dodders", "angel's hair", "devil's twine', and in Spanish, "zacatlascale". This is technically a holoparasite, incapable of photosynthesis, with no chlorophyll and no leaves. Its orange or yellowish strands, appropriately called "fideos" (spaghetti) in Costa Rica, can total more than 500 meters from a single seed. It is absolutely voracious, growing on anything. Wasps, bees and ants help to pollinate its flowers. It flowers virtually year round and is a parasite par excellence. It is used both as a source of dyes and in traditional medicine. Cuscuta is often evident either hanging from tree branches or simply decorating and mercilessly strangling roadside verges like some discarded seamstress's orange thread.
The other large genus of parasites is Phoradendron. This genus, the Mexican mistletoe, has many species. It is not the same as the evergreen European mistletoe with its white berries that was used in the ceremonies and rituals of the ancient Druids or, that in Norse mythology, was used for the dart that killed the god Baldur. It is still common in England to see the leaves and berries of Viscum album, the European mistletoe, hung in some prominent position at Christmastime to ward off evil spirits. Its presence is considered particularly propitious to lovers who kiss beneath it...
Of the Mexican mistletoes, some are herbaceous; others are vine-like, even treelike. Their leaves and flowers vary but several have tubular orange flowers growing wherever there is sufficient light. Phoradendron species are "hemiparasites", meaning that they are capable of some photosynthesis and have green leaves, unlike Cuscuta. Various birds including thrushes and tanagers feed heavily on mistletoe berries. Their sticky droppings deposited on branches contain the seeds which give rise to future mistletoe plants. Phoradendron flowers are well adapted to pollination by hummingbirds, though bees and other insects also help.
One of these mistletoes, locally called "Mal Ojo" (Evil Eye), is very much in evidence at present in the Chapala area. Left to its own devices, it will quickly kill its host trees. It is so prolific that it seems in many cases that the whole tree is in flower; unfortunately, it is not the tree's flowers that are such a dramatic orange in color but the parasite's.
There have been few ecological studies of the role played by parasitic plants in their ecosystems, and one author, L.D. Gomez, wryly observed that the study of this "somewhat esoteric assembly of bearded angels, witchweeds, diabolical entanglements, and strangling spaghetti, should best be attempted with bell, book and candle at hand."
Copyright, 1997 Tony Burton. All rights reserved.