Kind thanks to edgeplot@Flickr from Seattle, Washington for this intriguing photograph (original image | BPotD Flickr Group Pool). edgeplot took this image at the beautiful Deception Pass State Park in Washington. Thank you!
If you visit the original Flickr posting, you’ll note that edgeplot titled this image “Parasitism in the Salt Marsh”. I prefer an alternative, more Hollywoodish title: “The Halophyte and The Parasite”.
Salicornia virginica, or pickleweed, is the halophyte. If you’re confused as to which plant is the Salicornia, it is the green plant with thickened stems – see this photograph for a parasite-free version. It is able to grow in highly saline environments, such as this salt marsh, through its ability to sequester salt into the vacuoles of its cells. For an explanation of that adaptation, see this page on pickleweed (via Great Salt Lake Playa Ecology). The reference refers to a different taxon, but the mechanism should be the same.
The parasite is Cuscuta salina, or salt-marsh dodder. As edgeplot succinctly explains, “The dodder has twining orange stems and creamy white flowers. It is parasitic and unable to photosynthesize, and lives off nutrients taken from its green pickleweed host.” A short summary about dodder is available from the lab of Dr. Colin Purrington: background on the genus Cuscuta (dodder).