Love vine

Love vine (Cassytha filiformis) is used in love potions. It purportedly is an aphrodisiac, contains a good bit of caffeine, and has a root beer-like taste. Other common names for this hemi-parasitic vine include woevine, laurel dodder, devil’s gut, and witches hair.

Most often, this vine is yellow-green or brown-orange. It parasitizes lots of different kinds of plants including grasses, ferns, gymnosperms, and angiosperms. At the south Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area, it frequently is seen in association with scrub oaks (Quercus sp.).

Sometimes, love vine will be greenish in color, an indication that it contains some chlorophyll and, hence, can perform some photosyntheses. It most often, though, gets water and minerals from host plants by inserting a “feeding tube” (haustoria) into the tissue of other plants. Like any successful parasite, it doesn’t intend to kill its host (and itself), but sometimes it can smother its host plant beneath a dense mat of twining branches.

Its tiny sessile greenish/whitish flowers are visited by nectar-foraging flies and bees, which may act as pollinators. Or, it may be wind-pollinated. Flowering usually occurs from May to July.

The fruits ripen from green to white to black and are consumed and spread by birds and small mammals. Seeds can last for years in the ground awaiting microbial scarification. A seedling can survive up to 8 weeks without a host and can grow to be about a foot long.

The genus name Cassytha means a “tangled wisp of har” in Aramaic. The species name filiformis means thread-like, as it often is leafless. Love vine belongs to the laurel family, Lauraceae. It tends to be coastal in distribution, and its seeds float in salt water. This pantropical vine grows from Brevard County southward to Texas, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. It also grows in Hawaii.

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