What is mistletoe?
Many of us are familiar with mistletoe and the concept of kissing beneath it at this time of the year. But, have you ever stopped to wonder what exactly mistletoe is, or how or where it grow?
You may be suprised to know it is actually a parasite and grows by sinking its roots into the branches of other trees and feeding off their fluid and nutrients.
How does mistletoe grow?
Mistletoe is what is known as a hemi-parasite. This means that it can produce food for itself via photosynthesis, but it can also feed by taking fluid and nutrients from other plants – in this case, shrubs and trees.
The seeds inside the berries are very sticky, so they stick fast to and take root after being deposited on a suitable tree branch by a passing bird, after which, they sink their roots, called haustoria, into the branch to keep them steady and establish their ‘parasitic straw’.
This ‘straw’ sucks up water, minerals and other nutrients from the host tree up into the mistletoe itself, helping it to thive all year round – even in poor sunlight when it might struggle to photosynthesize.
Which trees does mistletoe grow on?
Mistletoe grows on a variety of different host trees depending upon the part of the world, but the most common host trees for European mistletoe, are apple, oak, hawthorn, linden, poplar, willow and aspen.
Although it can grow on any of these trees, it much prefers sunny, open spots. So, one of the best places to look out for mistletoe, are among the trees in sunny, south-facing fruit orchards.
What does mistletoe look like?
They are evergreen and have smooth, opposite, oval shaped leaves and clusters of waxy white berries. Their stems are also quite distinctive, growing in wide v-shapes.
Which birds or wildlife use mistletoe?
Mistletoe berries are rich in fats and protein, making them a very nutritious food source for birds such as blackcaps, robins and mistle thrushes.
In addition, some birds, such as flycatchers, use the mistletoe balls to help support their nests and squirrels and deer have been known to feast on low-hanging mistletoe too.