The Mystery About Mistletoe

by, Jo Carol Hebert

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Festive holiday decorations often include the white, shiny berries and evergreen leaves of the mistletoe. But, did you know this innocent-looking plant is a vicious ‘parasite?’

It lives off of other plants, like apple and poplar trees.

Parasite plants latch onto their victim-tree, sink their roots deep into the branches and steal water and food. Eventually, a healthy branch dies from a lack of nutrients.

Phoradendron? That’s Just a Mistletoe!

There are over 900 species of mistletoe in the world in all ecosystems. Scientists call this little parasite a ‘phoradendron.’

This Greek word translates to ‘thief of the tree.’ Observant people in early cultures noticed that the pesky plant grew where birds had left their droppings. They named it for the two old English words – ‘mistal (poop), and ‘tan’ (twig).

Thus, ‘poop on a twig.’

Do you know about other parasitic plants?
  • The Corpse flower/SE Asia, grows on vines and smells like rotten meat – read more about this “stinker” here.

The Good and the Bad Mistletoe

Although this plant has a bad name, it is helpful to animals. Toxic to people, the berries provide protein for birds and the plant is used for nesting material. 

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American Dwarf Mistletoe

It provides pollen and nectar for bees. Certain butterflies lay eggs on the plant and use the nectar as food for larvae. The glue-like seeds of the mistletoe attach to the fur, feathers, or beaks of animals and hitchhike to another tree. 

The American dwarf mistletoe has seeds that explode from ripe berries and can shoot 50 feet into the air!

Mistletoe Is Not Holly

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A walk in the woods in winter can provide a bright centerpiece for the holiday table. Those glossy, spiked leaves with bright red berries that pop the woodlands with color in the winter are holly bushes. They are a type of flowering plant.

With 480 species, this ‘evergreen’ is found around the world.

Plants Need Love, Too!

The greenery of Mistletoe, Holly, and Evergreen trees provide a special touch to the holiday season. The foliage of our great outdoors deserves our special concern and respect the year ‘round!

What do you think of Mistletoe? Tell us in the comments section!

Categories: Nature

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