Mistletoe

Natural History
Leafy mistletoe with green fruits
Photo credit: R. L. Anderson - USDA Forest Service

Mistletoe plants are found throughout the South and are common in Florida. Mistletoe was once believed to have magical and medicinal properties and has long been associated with Christmas celebrations.

This plant can infect most hardwoods. Mistletoe is not considered a major threat to trees but can cause some growth loss and damage to branches. In severe cases, mistletoe can weaken a tree, making it more vulnerable to insects and diseases.

Mistletoe is an evergreen plant that produces sticky seeds that are carried to tree branches by animals, birds, and rain. Once on the host tree, the seeds germinate and send out a peglike root to tap into the tree's vascular system. Mistletoe can only break into young, thin bark. The mistletoe removes water and essential nutrients from the host tree but mistletoe is not a complete parasite because it does make its own food.

Be careful not to confuse mistletoe (Phoradendron spp.) found in Florida with the dwarf mistletoe (Arceuthobium spp.) that is a serious problem in the western United States. Dwarf mistletoe and the mistletoe common in Florida (referred to as leafy mistletoe) are not related species and differ greatly in the damage they can cause.


 

Identifying Characteristics

Identifying the stress: Mistletoe is an evergreen, perennial plant that forms a dark green to yellowish-green bush that can reach 2' to 3' long or wide. Mistletoe has thickly crowded, forking branches and round, jointed stems. The opposite, oval to lance-shaped, leathery leaves are about 2" long. Mistletoe produces white berries in the fall that contain toxic chemicals poisonous to people and animals. This plant is easiest to see in the winter when the host tree has lost its leaves.
Susceptible trees: Mistletoe can grow on any hardwoods but oak, hickory, and pecan are the most commonly and most severely attacked trees.

 

Images

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Oak mistletoe (Phoradendron leucarpum). Oak mistletoe with flowers emerging from the leaf axils. A winter photo of mistletoe clumps growing in a deciduous tree in Greenville, SC. Juniper mistletoe (Phoradendron juniperum), growing in a juniper tree.
Photo credit: Rebekah D. Wallace, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org Photo credit: Rebekah D. Wallace, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org Photo credit: Randy Cyr, Greentree, Bugwood.org Photo credit: William Jacobi, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org

 

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