Mistletoe - A Holiday Tradition
Compiled by Gail Ruhl, Plant & Pest Diagnostic Lab, Purdue University
Although most folks think of mistletoe in association with kissing around
the Christmas holiday, it is really a plant disease!
Mistletoe is a parasitic seed plant. It is known as a hemi-parasite since
it obtains some nourishment from its hosts, by tapping into the flow of
water and minerals, but also uses it's own chlorophyll to produce its own
food through photosynthesis. There are several types of mistletoe, including
American Mistletoe and European Mistletoe. These two are different, but
related, species of parasitic shrubs. Both have small, leathery leaves and
translucent, white berries and are particularly fond of trees, such as
apple, hawthorn, linden and oak.
It is reported that American Mistletoe, Phoradendron sp., can be found in
trees from New Jersey to Florida and west to southern Illinois and Texas.
Though you can sometimes purchase seed of the American Mistletoe, it is
generally not successful in cultivation. The seeds actually germinate on the
host plant and parasitize (tap in) immediately.
Even though mistletoe is an important pollen and nectar plant for bees,
provides high-protein food for many animals and butterflies lay their eggs
on the plants and use the nectar as food, the berries and foliage of
mistletoe can cause severe digestive upset if eaten and in rare instances
may be fatal in humans. Plastic mistletoe is a safe holiday alternative.
What Does Mistletoe Have To Do With Christmas?
Fun Facts About Mistletoe