Samuel Isabirye of Bupadhengo village in Kamuli district is struggling with dodder weed that is destroying his crops, yet he has no clue on how to fight this deadly plant.
“This strange weed covers the whole plant. We don’t know how to fight or kill it, but it is doing a lot of damage to our farms,” Isabirye says.
He is one of the many farmers in the eastern districts of Uganda where this seems to have caused a lot of harm although it has spread across the country, including in cities like Kampala, where it invaded the trees planted along the streets.
In a research study conducted by East African Scholars Journal of Agriculture and Life science called, ‘A rapid assessment of the invasive Dodder Weed’, published on March 25, 2021, 73% of the respondents viewed dodder as just a weed, while 23% attributed it to witchcraft. The study was consucted in the Robusta coffee coffee-growing Busoga sub-region districts of Bugweri, Iganga, Kamuli and Mayuge.
“The fact that the infected plant host eventually dries and dies, implies that the invasion of dodder is likely to cause a yield loss of about 10.4% of the coffee in the Busoga sub-region if it is not controlled. Similarly, the weed has been reported to cause varying yield losses in other crop species such as 37-40% in sugar beets, 47% in cassava and 80-100% in cranberry among others,” the report stated.
What is dodder weed?
Dr Irene Bayiyana, a research officer at the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO), says dodder (strangle) weed belongs to a group of leafless obligate parasitic Weed that comprises of over 150 species in the genus Cuscusta.
“As NARO, under the ministry of Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Fisheries, we have embarked on research to fight the weed. We have already found out many things about the weed that can help in the fight,” she says.
The ‘beautiful’ whitish or yellowish filamentous stemed parasitic plant is also known by several other names such as devil’s gut, beggar weed, strangle tare, scald weed and devil’s hair. It enters into the plant sucks water and nutrients for its own survival since it has no chlorophyll.
“The plant has no chlorophyll, so it cannot make its own food. It, therefore, grows on other plants using their nutrients for its growth, thus weakening the host plant,” Bayiyana says.
It is an obligate parasite dependent on their host plant for nutrition. They usually don’t kill their host, but weaken it. Grasses are, however, immune to dodder. “The weed typicallyhas yellowish thin, twining stems up to 0.3mm wide that literally twines and strangles life out of affected plants, hence the name strangle weed. It is native to Asia, Africa and Mediterranean regions,” she says.