Adapted from What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses, by Daniel Chamovitz, by arrangement with Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC (North America), One World (UK), Scribe (AUS/NZ), Kawade Shobo Shisha (Japan). Copyright © 2012 by Daniel Chamovitz. To learn more visit, books.scientificamerican.com.

Cuscuta pentagona is not your normal plant. it is a spindly orange vine that can grow up to three feet high, produces tiny white flowers of five petals and is found all over North America. What is unique about Cuscuta [commonly known as dodder] is that it has no leaves. And it isn’t green, because it lacks chlorophyll, the pigment that absorbs solar energy, allowing plants to turn light into sugars and oxygen through photosynthesis. Cuscuta gets its food from its neighbors. It is a parasitic plant. In order to live, Cuscuta attaches itself to a host plant and sucks off the nutrients provided by the host by burrowing an appendage into the plant’s vascular system. What makes Cuscuta truly fascinating is that it has culinary preferences: it chooses which neighbors to attack.