Mistletoe – Festive Décor or Problematic Parasite?

Druids believed it had the power to protect loved ones from evil. Ancient Greeks used it is a medicinal cure for a myriad of disorders. And, even today, this plant is one of great tradition and symbolism. In fact, if you stand underneath it at Christmas time, you might just get a kiss! That’s right, we’re talking about mistletoe. This plant certainly has a notable history, but that’s not the only interesting thing about it. You might be surprised to learn that mistletoe is actually a parasite.

Mistletoe forms shrubby clumps that steal water and nutrients from the host tree.

Mistletoes form shrubby mounds on the branches or trunks of a living host tree. Many individual plants can be found growing on the same host. Though it can obtain some of its nutrition from photosynthesis, mistletoe gets the vast majority of nutrients and water it needs by “stealing” them from its host.

Most mistletoes feed from a variety of hosts. While a few of mistletoe plants in a large tree won’t cause major damage, a heavy infestation can impact a host tree’s ability to thrive. As the host fights with the mistletoe for valuable food and water, it may begin to lose leaves starting in the upper crown.

Since mistletoe can quickly sprout and regrow, it is important to completely remove it from the host tree. Pruning before fruit appears on mistletoe in the winter months will help manage the infestation.

While faux mistletoe is a favorite holiday decoration that looks nice in your home, take action if you see this parasitic plant in your trees!

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