Parasitic Plants of Massachusetts

The plants listed below obtain some or all of their food from plant hosts. The vast majority of parasitic plants are hemiparasitic, i.e., they are generally green plants that photosynthesize and are only partially dependent on other plants for food. Some species, including species from the broom-rape family (Orobanchaceae), are holoparasitic. Holoparasitic plants lack chlorophyll and obtain most or all of their nourishment from other plants. Parasitic plant species of Massachusetts are listed below by family.

Cuscutaceae (Dodder Family)


Dodders are herbaceous vines that attach to the stems and leaves of plant hosts by means of specialized structures called haustoria. Food and water are extracted from the host through the haustoria. Most species of dodder have a wide range of plant hosts. The following seven species of dodder occur in Massachusetts.

Cuscuta cephalanthi (button-bush dodder)
Cuscuta compacta (dense or compact dodder)
Cuscuta coryli (pondshore dodder)
Cuscuta epithymum (clover dodder) mainly parasitic on legumes
Cuscuta gronovii (common dodder, love-vine)
Cuscuta pentagona (field dodder)
Cuscuta polygonorum (smartweed dodder) parasitic on Polygonum spp. and other hosts

Orbanchaceae (Broom-rape Family)


Members of the broom-rape family are parasitic on plant roots. They lack chlorophyll and obtain all of their organic carbon from the host plant. Three species occur in Massachusetts.

Conopholis americana (squawroot) parasitic on oak
Epifagus virginiana (beechdrops) parasitic on beech
Orobanche uniflora (one-flowered cancerroot) parasitic on many kinds of plants

Santalaceae (Sandalwood Family)

bastard toadflax

Plants of the Sandalwood family contain chlorophyll and are hemiparasitic on the roots of other plants. One species occurs in Massachusetts.

Comandra umbellata (bastard toadflax)

Scrophulariaceae (Figwort Family)


This family includes many green plants that are hemiparasitic on the roots of other plants. The following hemiparasites occur in Massachusetts:

Agalinis acuta (sandplain gerardia)
Agalinis maritima (seaside gerardia)
Agalinis paupercula (small-flowered gerardia)
Agalinis purpurea (purple gerardia)
Agalinis tenuifolia (slender gerardia)

Aureolaria flava (smooth false foxglove)
Aureolaria pedicularia (fern-leaf false foxglove)
Aureolaria virginica (downy false foxglove)

Castilleja coccinea (scarlet painted cup)
Castilleja exserta (Indian paintbrush)
Euphrasia micrantha (tiny-flowered eyebright)
Euphrasia nemorosa (hairy eyebright)
Euphrasia stricta (stiff eyebright)

Melampyrum lineare (cowwheat)

Odontites vernus (red bartsia)

Pedicularis canadensis (wood betony)
Pedicularis lanceolata (swamp lousewort)

Rhinanthus alectorolophus (large yellow rattle)
Rhinanthus minor (yellow rattle)

Schwalbea americana (chaffseed)

Viscaceae (Christmas-mistletoe Family)

Members of the Christmas-mistletoe family are hemiparasitic or parasitic on the branches of trees. One species occurs in Massachusetts.

Arceuthobium pusillum (eastern dwarf mistletoe) - hemiparasitic on the branches of black spruce. May also be found on white spruce and occasionally on other conifers.


Gleason, H.A. and A. Cronquist. Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. 1991. Second Edition. The New York Botanical Garden Press: Bronx, NY.

Sorrie, B.A. and Sommers, P. 1999. The Vascular Plants of Massachusetts: A County Checklist. Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program.

Southern Illinois University, College of Science. Parasitic Plant Connection website. Available from Updated January 12, 2007.

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