Friday, December 11, 2009


When you think of mistletoe, holiday decorations and stolen kisses come to mind. In the garden, however, mistletoe leads a life of crime, plundering nutrients from trees and serving up highly toxic berries. A native plant, American mistletoe, Phoradendron flavescens, isn't all that bad, providing shelter and food to a variety of birds, bugs, and butterflies. The great purple hairstreak, Atlides halesus, a beautiful southern butterfly, relies on the mistletoe as a primary food source for its larvae.

Partners in Crime
Birds thrive on mistletoe berries and use the growing clusters for nesting. Unharmed by the berries' toxins, birds end up with sticky mistletoe seeds stuck to their beaks and feet. They assist the spread of mistletoe when they land on new branches or preen to clean their beaks. The seeds get lodged in the bark, germinate, send 'holdfasts' to the branch , and produce foliage about a year later

Mistletoe facts...
  • There are 1,300 species of mistletoe
  • Cost of a sprig of mistletoe (minus the berries): $5
  • It was once thought that mistletoe grew spontaneously from bird droppings
  • Age at which a mistletoe plants flowers: 5 years
  • Best way to rid a landscape tree of mistletoe is to prune the infected limb
  • In 1893, mistletoe was chosen as the floral emblem of Oklahoma
  • Medical use of mistletoe extract in Europe: cancer treatment

Mistletoe 'balls' and trees can coexist for years. The berries ripen in November

Article by Abigail Poulette, Organic Gardening, Jan 2007

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