The Dorset heaths are a really different sort of habitat to almost anywhere else in the county with some unique species to be found. One of those is common dodder (Cuscuta epithymum) although actually is not totally a heathland species but it seems it is most likely to be found there because it is a parasitic plant that grows on gorse and heather species. It was once found in corn fields and pasture, clovers are another host, but it has been almost totally eradicated from food growing areas now by spraying.
Common dodder is a member of the bindweed family and produces the same 'streamer' stems which entwine anti-clockwise and along which the tiny pink, five petalled flowers form in July and August. Being parasitic it has no roots and does not have chlorophyll as it draws the nutrients it needs from its host hence the stems are red/brown and so merge in with the heathers where it is most commonly found. That, and the tiny flowers, mean that common dodder can be very easily overlooked.
It has a number of country names and many of these reflect the 'supernatural' absence of roots
Whilst bladder wrack is the best known of the wrack seaweeds the one most often seen is actually the channelled wrack (Pelvetia canaliculata). Growing freely near the high water line it is adapted to withstand long periods of exposure to the air without drying out. The weed that is out of the water the longest is usually blacker than the paler colour of that which is covered for longer. It does not have bladders for flotation as it rarely needs to float. It may appear to have bladders at the ends of its fronds but the swellings are not full of air, they contain a jelly substance and are the fruiting body of the seaweed. Channelled wrack grows in large masses and can be seen on sea walls, quays and piers as well as the upper reaches of rocky shorelines but each plant only grows to about 18 inches long due to the amount of time it is our of water. It is common around British shores and Dorset is no exception to that. In Scotland it has been used as cattle fodder but I was surprised to r…
The centre of the web is a funnel in which the spider waits. Around the entrance are lots of single strands, a bit like trip wires, that stop insects from an easy escape and gradually bring them nearer to the central funnel from where Agelena can strike!
I have heard people refer to these as Funnel Web Spiders which, of course they are not. Funnel Web Spiders are renowned for being very poisonous where as this spider is quite harmless (to humans).
The are extremely nervous creatures and quickly retreat in to their funnels which makes photographing them very difficult.