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Cuscuta: A Freeloading Weed, their Dilemma and Property

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Cuscuta (Dodder) a total stem parasite depends completely on their host for their life processes. It is treated as a noxious weed which causes loss of several major crops in the agricultural field by their root like haustorial adaptation. But apart from their weed nature, they have medicinal, pharmacological and industrial importance. They have been used for treatment of diseases like jaundice, headache, rheumatism, liver diseases. They were also found to possess antibacterial, antiviral, anti-HIV, anti-inflammator and anticancerous properties. This review deals with positive prospects and associated problems of Cuscuta which can be helpful in future exploration of their hidden aspects. Highlights Cuscuta a holoparasitic, annual flowering and herbaceous plant has made itself statically interesting in the medical science field due to its action against several human diseases.
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Cuscuta: A Freeloading Weed, their Dilemma
and Property
Pramod Kumar Pandey1, Amit Kumar Singh1*, Siddhartha Singh1, Vivek Pandey2 and Mayanglambam
Chandrakumar Singh1
1Department of Basic Science and Humanities, College of Horticulture and Forestry, Central Agricultural University, Pasighat-
791102, Arunachal Pradesh, India
2Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, Tezpur University, Napam- 784028, Assam, India
*Email: geneamit@gmail.com
Paper No. 141 Received: April 19, 2013 Accepted: July 3, 2013 Published: September 04 , 2013
Abstract
Cuscuta (Dodder) a total stem parasite depends completely on their host for their life processes. It is treated as a noxious weed
which causes loss of several major crops in the agricultural field by their root like haustorial adaptation. But apart from their weed
nature, they have medicinal, pharmacological and industrial importance. They have been used for treatment of diseases like
jaundice, headache, rheumatism, liver diseases. They were also found to possess antibacterial, antiviral, anti-HIV, anti-inflammator
and anticancerous properties. This review deals with positive prospects and associated problems of Cuscuta which can be
helpful in future exploration of their hidden aspects.
Highlights
Cuscuta a holoparasitic, annual flowering and herbaceous plant has made itself statically interesting in the medical science field
due to its action against several human diseases.
Keywords: Anti-oxidative, anticancer, anti- HIV, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, parasitic and weed.
©2013 New Delhi Publishers. All rights reserved
International Journal of Agriculture, Environment & Biotechnology
Citation: IJAEB: 6(3): 479-486 September 2013
DOI Number 10.5958/j.2230-732X.6.3.021
Introduction
A parasitic plant is a plant which can take their foods and
drinks i.e. nourishments from some other plant with the
help of haustorium which is a modified root and have
been described as grounding group and environment
engineers because of they affect multiple trophic levels of
ecosystem (Costea, 2009) of which About 4,100 species
in approximately 19 families of flowering plants are known
(Nickrent, 2004), representing ;1% of the known
angiosperm diversity.
They may be Obligate parasite – which cannot complete
its life cycle without a host; Facultative parasite – which
can complete its life cycle independent of a host; Stem
parasite – a parasite that attaches to the host stem; Root
parasite – a parasite that attaches to the host root;
Hemiparasite – chlorophyllous and has ability to does
photosynthesis, hemiparasites may just obtain water and
mineral nutrients from the host plant; Holoparasite – a plant
that is completely parasitic on other plants and
Achlorophyllous and cannot do photosynthesis.
Cuscuta (dodder) is a slender, pale stems, holoparasitic,
annual flowering, and herbaceous plants that bear haustoria
and lack roots and leaves (Fathoulla and Duhoky, 2008). It
represents one such parasitic taxonomically challenging
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faction which consist about 200 species (Wright et al.,
2012) that infests many crops, ornamentals, native plants,
and weeds (Jamshid & Esther, 2010). Previously it was
placed in the family Cuscutaceae (dodder family), (Swift,
1996) but researches by various genetic research group
have placed it in the Convolvulaceae (Morning-glory family)
family (Stefanovic et al., 2002; Nickrent & Musselman,
2005). It is cosmopolitan in distribution, found on every
continent (except Antarctica), ranging from the 60th parallel
north in Europe and Asia, to the Cape region of South Africa,
and as far south as the 47th parallel in Argentina and Chile
(Stefanovic et al., 2007). It is believed that Cuscuta were
originate from Europe, America, and the Old World
Mediterranean region, and now a day’s naturalized
worldwide (Stefanovic et al., 2007) they are also known
with the common name such as beggar vine, love vine,
strangle weed, bigseed alfalfa dodder, western field dodder,
greater dodder devil’s-guts, gold thread, pulldown, devil’s-
ringlet, hell bine, hair weed, devil’shair, hail weed and dodder
etc. It is evidenced that during medieval times, Cuscuta
spp. (dodders) was regarded as evil transformations of
common plants (Wilfrid Laurier Herbarium (Biology)). Even
though total parasite, seedlings of all species dodder are
self sufficient and autotrophic prior contact with any host.
Gradual reduction in photosynthetic activity leads to their
evolution from hemiparasite to holoparasite (Wilfrid Laurier
Herbarium (Biology).
With the help of haustorium which is a modified adventitious
root, they entwine around a broad range of host plants and
absorb water, minerals and carbohydrate from the host via
penetration to the host’s tissue (Kumar et al., 2012).
Haustorium arises as a result of secondary stimulus from
the suitable food present in the host plant (Ruth and Tauer,
2001). By absorbing nutrition from the host plant dodder
affects the growth and yield of host plants, which could
be symptomatic in the reproduction and photosynthesis
(Fathoulla and Duhoky, 2008).
It is referred to as “noxious weeds” in British Columbia,
Manitoba, and Ontario etc and as “restricted weeds” in
Alberta on Canadian provincial lists (Costea and Stefanovic,
2009). The U. S. federal provision and the Canadian
provinces, place dodders in Prohibited Noxious Weeds
“Quarantine” or “Class A Noxious Weed” (Rice, 2009;
USDA, NRCS, 2009; Costea and Stefanovic, 2009).
On the basis of stigma and style morphology Engelmann,
(1859) categorized Cuscuta into three groups: First, with
single style (Subgenus Monogyna), partially to completely
undivided, with a variety of stigma shapes; Second, with
two distinct styles in which stigma is elongated and linear
(Subgenera Cuscuta) and third, short and capitates
(Subgenera Grammica respectively) (Wright et al., 2012).
Dodder is leafless and contains some or little chlorophyll
in the bud, fruits and stems, hence the prepared food by
photosynthesis is not sufficient to fulfill the requirements
and survival of the plant. It obtains nearly all of its energy
from the host plant via attachment which enables it to survive
for several days after being detached from the host plant.
With contact of other suitable hosts nearby, they spread
from one host plant to other host plant, by forming a dense
intertwined network.
They have dented pale straw to blackish seeds, which are
2.5 to 3 mm in length and 2 to 3 mm in diameter (Reed &
Hughes, 1977). Their seeds have dormancy because of
their impervious hard seed coat which ensures that they
germinate over a long period as much as after 50 years or
more in dry storage, about 10 years in the field and two
decades when buried in the soil (Chrtek & Osbornova,
1991; Parker & Richie, 1993).
Host range
Cuscuta has a broad host range, which includes the member
of Asteraceae family, Fabaceae family (alfalfa and clover),
Ericaceae family, Chrysanthemums, sunflower, marigold,
potatoes and flax asparagus, melons, safflower, sugarbeet,
tomato, Convolvulus arvensis, Chenopodium album,
Amaranthus species, lambsquarters, flax, dahlia, helenium
and petunias etc. (Czarnota, 1914; Swift, 1996; Fathoulla
& Duhoky, 2008; Patel et al., 2012) alongwith those grown
for agricultural purpose, ornamental plants, range plants,
and weeds (Jamshid & Esther, 2010).
Host specificity
Host specificity of dodder is very interesting it varied from
a narrow host range (specific) to a wide host range
(parasitizing numerous hosts) towards a single species or
to a population of different economically important crops
(Patel et al., 2012). Their parasitizing ability depends on
successful penetration of haustorium in to the host plant,
but it is not necessary in all case due to lignin present outside
the vascular tissue of the host (Wilfrid Laurier Herbarium
(Biology)). Certain plant produces phytoalexins and other
inhibitors for their defence.
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Table 1: List of various species of cuscuta
Cuscuta americana Cuscuta campestris
Cuscuta applanata Cuscuta cassytoides
Cuscuta approximata Cuscuta ceanothi
Cuscuta attenuata Cuscuta cephalanthi
Cuscuta australis Cuscuta chinensis
Cuscuta boldinghii Cuscuta compacta
Cuscuta brachycalyx Cuscuta coryli
Cuscuta californica Cuscuta corylii
Cuscuta cuspidata Cuscuta europaea
Cuscuta decipiens Cuscuta exaltata
Cuscuta dentatasquamata Cuscuta fasciculata
Cuscuta denticulata Cuscuta gigantea
Cuscuta epilinum Cuscuta globulosa
Cuscuta epithymum Cuscuta glomerata
Cuscuta erosa Cuscuta gronovii
Cuscuta harperi Cuscuta indesora
Cuscuta howelliana Cuscuta japonica
Cuscuta indecora Cuscuta jepsoni
Cuscuta leptantha Cuscuta lupuliformis
Cuscuta macrolepis Cuscuta pacifica
Cuscuta megalocarpa Cuscuta pentagona
Cuscuta monogyna Cuscuta plattensis
Cuscuta mitriformis Cuscuta polygonorum
Cuscuta obtusiflora Cuscuta potosina
Cuscuta odontolepis Cuscuta reflexa
Cuscuta salina Cuscuta rostrata
Cuscuta sandwichiana Cuscuta runyonii
Cuscuta squamata Cuscuta tuberculata
Cuscuta suaveolens Cuscuta umbellata
Cuscuta suksdorfii Cuscuta vivipara
Cuscuta warneri Cuscuta planiflora
Life cycle
After seed germination, Cuscuta has to face their death
race which is overcome by locating and establishing
haustorial contact with a suitable host. If contact does not
happen in one or two weeks, they are allocated for death
because their roots like haustoria is not functional for taking
food from host (Jamshid & Esther, 2010). Therefore,
dodder adopts for dormancy and hence germinate relatively
late in season. Their stems twine anticlockwise around the
stems of the host; biochemical and physiological channel
will be made after their small haustoria penetrate the tissues
of the host (Hong et al., 2011). Once established on host,
shoots grow very fast. One Cuscuta plant can parasitize
hundreds of host simultaneously.
Problem
As the Cuscuta is holoparasite it can infect to the host plant
by coiling or twining to their stem leading to the formation
of an adhesive disks at the attachment sites between the
parasites and host plant part i.e. stem, leaf or even petioles
for their proper fixation (Hong et al., 2011; Kumar et al.,
2012), after penetration to the host they target the vascular
bundle and decreases the chlorophyll and food content of
the host (Fathoulla and Duhoky, 2008; Patel et al., 2012;
Kumar et al., 2012).
As evidenced that several Cuscuta sp. are serious pest
worldwide that reduced yield in multiple crops and their
seed act as contaminants in forage legumes (Patel et al.,
2012; Kumar et al., 2012). There are some sporadic reports
of toxicosis in rabbits, horses and cattle (Wilfrid Laurier
Herbarium (Biology)).
They spread by seed, stem fragments. Transportation of
seed is due to contaminated fodder, other seeds and animals
digestive system, and flood water by river and by birds.
After germination seed transformed into slender, yellowish
shoot which can then penetrate the susceptible host by
their haustoria for absorbing water and food materials (Patel
et al., 2012; Kumar et al., 2012). If they penetrate
successfully to the host, their contact with ground is ended
(Jamshid & Esther, 2010). Cuscuta continues to grow and
expand from plant to plant and complete their reproductive
cycle, flowering occur, seeds were produced and fall to
ground where their germination takes place or remain
dormant for germination to next season (Agrios, 1997).
Due to long viability of its dormant seeds it is very difficult
to control and eradicate.
Dodder species are alert weed. Hence, causes damage to
crops and can suppress or kill native plants (Jamshid &
Esther, 2010). All Alert Weeds are prohibited for their
transportation and sale (Sect. 175 and 177) and must be
destroyed if found (Sect. 182), declared under the Natural
Resources Management Act 2004.
Their negative impact includes severe reductions of plant
growth, complete loss of vigor and death. The rigorousness
depends on the growth stage of the host plant (Jamshid &
Esther, 2010). If the plant is well established potentiality of
Cuscuta is lessen and it doesn’t kill the host plant but after
multiple attachment they can kill the same plant with higher
potentiality. Now, infected and weakened plants welcome’s
insect, nematode and other pathogenic microbe’s invasion
for disease development.
They have several negative impacts like parasitized on
cultivable plants, crops, herbs and forbs; diminishes crop
yield by absorbing nutrients from its host plant (Patel et
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Figure 1: Early developmental stages of Cuscuta
Figure 2: Attachment of Cuscuta haustorium with host root
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483 ©2013 New Delhi Publishers. All rights reservedPRINT ISSN.: 0974-1712 ONLINE ISSN.: 2230-732X
al., 2012; Kumar et al., 2012); dense mass of Cuscuta
prevent sunlight for photosynthesis by twining to the host
stems; they have glycosides inside them which cause
scouring and death in cattle; leads to the financial loss.
Management
Several methods of control and management of dodder
were discussed (ARS, 1978; Parker & Ritchie, 1993;
Agrios, 1997; Musselman, 2001; Fathoulla & Duhoky,
2008; Pratt RA) that involves an organized approach that
includes several methods (Cudney et al., 1992; Jamshid &
Esther, 2010), usually it can be very difficult to eliminate
dodder with a single treatment. All treatment has their focus
onto control of the current population of dodder, prevention
of its seed production and its spreading from one host to
another. Many countries and states have seed laws which
prohibited the presence of dodder in seed and utilized for
dodder-free planting seed as a primary way of preventing
the spread of dodder.
1. Preventing it’s introduction into a field by the use of
dodder-free seeds.
2. Cleaning equipment thoroughly before moving it from
dodder infected fields to new areas.
3. Limiting the movement of domestic animals from
infected to dodder-free fields.
4. Cutting or burning of patches, kills both the dodder
and the host plants and prevent dodder from
spreading and from producing seeds.
5. It can be controlled by frequent tillage, flaming and
use of herbicides.
6. Mechanical control includes hand-pulling, rotation,
land preparation, time of planting, method of
planting, post-planting cultivations, fertilization,
mixed cropping, solarization, mowing, and fire
(Jamshid & Esther, 2010).
7. Chemical includes fumigants, herbicides to prevent
establishment, and herbicides to control established
dodder.
8. Biological control includes use of resistant and
tolerant varieties, by use of insects and pathogen.
9. Integrated control of dodder is most effective which
includes the combination of biological chemical and
physical means.
Physical control
By means of cultural control all Cuscuta vegetative mats
were removed. Non host planting is a good alternative for
managing dodder (Dawson et al., 1994). Use of grasses
(monocots), crucifers, legumes and shrubs can be a good
approach. If dodder plants were notified before host
planting it can be removed by cultivation or hand pulling
and after cutting leave cultivated plant to dry and die or
place the plants in plastic bags and disposed of them.
Pruning trees and shrubs also have little importance in
dodder management (Dawson et al., 1994).
Soil solarization (killing weeds using a clear, plastic trap
and sun’s heat) and composting are very useful to kill dodder
seed. Hand pulling, cutting, or mowing also can reduce
dodder infestations.
Burning is another way to control dodder infestation by
destroying invaded tissue of the host plants along with
dodder (Cudney et al., 1992), it mostly depend on the fire
duration and intensity. Controlled Burn involved to clear
the soil surface site where dodder seed lying.
Chemical control
By the help of certain chemicals dodder can be controlled
and managed, but it required skillfully good coverage and
careful spraying of particular chemical which insure that
desired plant could not be harmed. Pelargonic acid (Scythe)
is effective to kills any plant tissue to which it contacts.
So, the chemical method is avoided in home garden and
landscape.
Chemical control includes use of herbicides, Glyphosate
(Dawson, 1990; Jamshid & Esther, 2010) which kill all
host and parasitic vegetation within the infested site. Pre-
Figure 3: Attachment of Cuscuta around host stem by Twining
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emergent herbicides which includes Kerb (pronamide),
Treflan (trifluralin), and Prowl (pendimethalin) (Jamshid
& Esther, 2010) applied where Cuscuta has been difficult
to eradicate and has persistent problem and selectively have
their effect on Cuscuta while application of post- emergent
herbicides like Dacthal (DCPA), Scythe (pelargonic acid),
Raptor (imazamox), Pursuit (imazethapyr), and Gramoxone
(paraquat) (Jamshid & Esther, 2010) have their negative
effect on host plant and injured them. Hence pre-emergent
herbicides were prefferd over post- emergent herbicides.
Fumigation with methyl bromide was used for killing dodder
seed in the soil. Soil Sterilization is also one of the most
effective strategies with the help of Propane, Vapam and
Basamid.
Biological control
Uses of pathogenic organisms which were able to kill the
dodder were utilized to control their spreading from one
host to other. Fungus Colletotrichum gloeosporiodes were
reported to have anti dodder activity (Dawson et al., 1994:
Pratt RA).
Besides use of pathogenic organisms, development of
resistant varieties provide more powerful tools to provide
resistant against dodder plant or tolerant to dodder attack
which is yet to be developed.
Importance
It is evidenced that the term Kushut, alkushuth and kushutha
is used for Cuscuta by the inhabitants of Mesopotamia,
Egypt and Syria (Wilfrid Laurier Herbarium (Biology))
which is thread like yellow in color, absorb water, without
root and leaves, climbs onto trees and branches, it damage
the crops, bitter in taste and used to mix with wine.
One of the most striking role of dodder was to it is treated
as keystone species in their ecosystems because it has
capacity to reduce host’s biomass, distribution pattern and
modify the structure of plant communities.
Ethno - medical uses
Along with their badness dodder has multiple beneficial
uses (Costea & Tardif, 2004). Traditionally dodder was
utilized for their various medicinal importances (Costea &
Tardif, 2004; Patel et al., 2012; Kumar et al., 2012).
Cuscuta chinensis used in medicine and referred to as
medicinal plant, Cuscuta tinctoria were used as a dye and
were reported to have antifungal or insecticidal effects
(Wilfrid Laurier Herbarium (Biology)).
According to Sabur bin-Sahl (d. 868) and Ibn-Masawayh
(d. 857) hotness or coldness of Kushut plant is directly
proportional to hotness and coldness of their host. So, any
can able to determine the vegetation is hot or cold. Ibn-
Masawayh (d. 857) in his book writes it is utilized to soften
the stomach, strengthens the liver and its water is utilized
against the persisting inflammations. According to Masih
(9th century) it is utilized for purification of body, also cleans
the liver and the stomach (Patel et al., 2012; Kumar et al.,
2012). Avicena (980-1037) states that it uses to ease the
urine, the menstruation, colic, and decreases the
hemorrhage. According to Alghafiqi (d. 1165) it is good
against the gout and rheumatism (Baquar & Tasnif, 1967;
Wilfrid Laurier Herbarium (Biology)).
Its juice combination with Saccharum officinarum is used
to treat jaundice (Patel et al., 2012). Bilious disorder, body
pain, constipation and itchy skin were overcome with the
help of dodder stem, its have their positive response toward
hair growth (Pandit et al., 2008). Seeds of dodder species
are reported to use as sedative, anthelmintic, diuretic in
liver and spleen diseases, in chronic fever and in high cough
(Kirtikar & Basum, 1984).
Chinese herbalists use C. reflexa in combination with
several other constituents to treat impotence, premature
ejaculation, frequent urination, ringing in the ears, lower
back pain, white discharge from the vagina (leucorrhoea),
dry eyes, blurred vision and tired eyes (Patel et al., 2012).
Pharmacological properties
Dodder species were reported to have several
pharmacological activities regarding to lower blood pressure
(Singh & Garg, 1973; Gilani & Aftab, 1992), anti- HIV
activity (Mahmood et al., 1997), anti-oxidant activity
(Srivastava et al., 2004), antibacterial activity (Pal et al.,
2006; Uddin et al., 2007) , hepatoprotective activity
(Balakrishnan et al., 2010), hypoglycaemic effect
(Rahmatullah et al., 2009), diuretic activity (Sharma et al.,
2009), anti-inflammatory and anticancer activity (Suresh
et al., 2011; Chatterjee et al., 2011).
Alcoholic extract of C. reflexa in his experiment on dog by
Singh & Garg, 1973, showed that C. reflexa causes a fall
in blood pressure and extract’s action was not blocked by
atropine, mepyramine or propranolol.
The effects of cadmium on growth and seedlings of C.
reflexa and the antioxidative enzymes, namely, catalase,
peroxidose glutathione reductase, glutathione and
phytochelatins were investigated by Srivastava et al., 2004.
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Methanol fraction of C. reflexa stem showed significant
antibacterial activity against Staphylococcus aureus,
Shigella boydii, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Shigella
dysenteries and Escherichia coli (Pal et al., 2006), Methanol
extract of C. reflexa improves liver function by deceasing
serum level in hepatotoxic rats (Balakrishnan et al., 2010).
A biologically active chemical compound showing
significant anti- viral activity has been isolated and purified
from the extract of Cuscuta species which has potent
activity to prevent infection of viruses in their hypersensitive
and systemic hosts (Awasthi, 1981).
Methanol extract of Cuscuta reflexa stem delayed sexual
maturation by suppressing ovarian steroidogenesis and
showed marked protection against convulsion induced by
chemoconvulsive agents in mice (Gupta et al., 2003a &
2003b).
Although modern science is yet to be unknown about various
function of dodder and trying to understand physiological
mechanism, clinical testing and drug discoveries to support
the traditional uses of Cuscuta.
Conclusion
No doubt, dodder species are a potential pest which cause
agricultural loss but there will be report of only about 15 -
20 species from over all known species which is weedy.
Negative thinking of people that dodder are a dangerous
and must be destroyed it is due to the current legislation of
the most country and it is a negative preconception against
parasitic organisms like Cuscuta.
This enthralling and fascinating group of plant is not fully
understood yet, although in molecular and biotechnological
era for their economic value. Various species of dodder
were reported for their antioxidant activity, anti- disease
activity, antibacterial, anticancer, antiviral, anti-
inflammatory activity and several others yet to be known.
This review enlighten the both “negative and positive”
impact of Cuscuta which help’s researchers and scholars
to investigate various phytochemical associated and new
specific drug to treat various diseases.
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