Mistletoe | Archives | Aggie Horticulture

1. Q. I have always associated the hanging of mistletoe in my house with the beginning of the Christmas season -- I guess I just enjoy sneaking up on unsuspecting individuals and giving them a great big smooch! I have heard that mistletoe is poisonous; is it? How could I grow some mistletoe in the trees in my backyard?

A. The word mistletoe usually brings to mind Christmas festivities and the pleasurable results of getting caught under the sprig of mistletoe. Mistletoe is, however, a parasite (actually deriving its survival from another living entity) on trees. Hackberry and live oak most frequently serve as host trees. Mistletoe is dependent on its host tree for all water and dissolved minerals. It is, however, a chlorophyll containing plant which manufactures the sugars and starches needed in its growth and development.

Mistletoe stems bear conspicuous green, leathery leaves which persist for several seasons. Nutrients and water are supplied from an absorbing system which develops in the bark and wood of the host plant. Flowers are born in the leaf axil and produce the familiar, translucent, whitish berries in late fall and early winter. An important fact to remember, especially when mistletoe is used for decorative purposes during the holiday season, is that the berries are very poisonous.

Within the tough outer coat of the berry is a single seed which is embedded in a sticky pulp. Birds feed on this sticky pulp and discard the seeds which stick to their bills, feet, or other parts of the body. In this way the seeds are carried to other trees or other branches of the same tree and deposited. Using this technique, you could disseminate mistletoe to other trees in your yard. When conditions are right the seed germinates, sending its root-like structures into the host plant and another parasite is developed.

Mistletoe frequently becomes so abundant in trees that control measures become necessary. For temporary removal of mistletoe, the parasite can merely be broken off. In due time, however, it will grow back. More lasting control can be obtained by removing the limbs on which the parasite is growing. No chemical is presently available to successfully control mistletoe without doing excessive harm to the host plant.

Cut all the mistletoe you want for the holiday season to reduce the amount in the landscape plants. Remember to keep the berries out of reach of small children. Most important of all, it is claimed by some participants that those caught under the mistletoe have a better chance of catching a winter cold than of catching a mate so be careful.

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