Cuscuta europaea

Tracheophyta MagnoliopsidaCuscutaceaeCuscutaCuscuta europaea


An annual, rarely perennial, rootless twining holoparasite of damp nitrophilous places, especially the banks of rivers, but also hedges and ditches. Its primary host is usually Urtica dioica, rarely Humulus lupulus or other species, whence it can spread to a wide spectrum of secondary hosts. It often grows close to flowing water, which may disperse the seeds. Lowland.



World Distribution

Eurosiberian Temperate element; widely naturalised outside its native range.

© K.J. Walker, BSBI

Broad Habitats

Rivers and streams

Light (Ellenberg): 6

Moisture (Ellenberg): 7

Reaction (Ellenberg): 6

Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 7

Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0

January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 3.7

July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 16.4

Annual Precipitation (mm): 679

Height (cm): 2

Perennation - primary


Life Form - primary

Therophyte (annual land plant)



Clonality - primary

Far-creeping by stolons in illuminated medium

Comment on Clonality

anomalous; an annual forming extensive clones but not rooting

Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 126

Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0

Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0

Atlas Change Index: 0.04

JNCC Designations


Scarce Atlas Account

Scarce Atlas Account: 

Cuscuta europaea L.

Greater Dodder

Status: scarce



This plant is a rootless parasite which, upon germination, attaches to a primary host. The host is almost invariably Urtica dioica, but rarely Humulus lupulus. C. europaea then parasitises a broad spectrum of secondary hosts - over 40 species in many families have been recorded. It is generally found on the banks of streams and rivers but in some areas it is more frequent on roadside hedges and ditch banks. It always grows in damp nitrophilous conditions where its primary host occurs in abundance. It was once recorded as a casual on potatoes. It is restricted to the lowlands. 

C. europaea is usually annual but it could possibly perennate on certain hosts. It flowers in August and September. Seeds may be dispersed down stream following winter flooding.

This species has been confused with other members of the genus, and some old records shown in the Atlas of the British Flora are now regarded as unreliable. It has always been uncommon and may be in decline in some areas, though the reasons for this are not clear. Herbicide spraying to combat its primary host may in part be responsible. The recent discovery of the plant in North Essex (Tarpey & Heath 1990) suggests that it may be overlooked in its painful and otherwise botanically unpromising habitat.

This plant has a scattered distribution throughout much of Europe but is absent from the far north and from many of the islands. It is montane at the southern end of its range. It is also found in North Africa and temperate Asia, and known as an introduction in North America.

It is known in Gloucestershire, and perhaps elsewhere, as devil's guts. For a more detailed account of its ecology, see Verdcourt (1948).



F. J. Rumsey

Atlas text references

Atlas (218c)
Hultén E, Fries M
1986.  Atlas of north European vascular plants north of the Tropic of Cancer. 3 vols.
Meusel H, Jäger E, Rauschert S, Weinert E
1978.  Vergleichende Chorologie der zentraleuropäischen Flora. Volume 2. 2 vols.
Stewart A, Pearman DA, Preston CD
1994.  Scarce plants in Britain.
Verdcourt B
1948.  Biological Flora of the British Isles. No. 24. Cuscuta genus L. (p. 356-358), Cuscuta europaea L. (pp. 358-365). Journal of Ecology. 36:356-365.