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Many people associate mistletoe with oak because of the stories of the ancient druids worshipping mistletoe on oak. In reality European Mistletoe Viscum album is very rare on oak — which is not a suitable host. A few mistletoe-bearing oaks are known in Britain — but these are extremely rare.

It’s now easier to study a dangerous parasite

Other species of mistletoe, including several in North America and one less common species in central Europe, can be found commonly on oak — but these mistletoe species are not the one used in druidic legend. Once the branch has been broken off, or the tree has died, the mistletoe is doomed too. It can survive for a few years on trees that have fallen over, which often still have some life, but plants cannot be moved from host to host — you need to start again with seeds.


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Mistletoe in Britain mostly grows in the south-west midlands — Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Somerset. In this area it is common. Outside this area it is generally scarce or very rare, occurring as small isolated populations or individual plants. Most mistletoe in Britain grows on apple trees — and the loss of the traditional apple tree orchards is obviously having an effect on mistletoe.


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This will reduce the amount of mistletoe we have , particularly the amount available for harvesting each season, but it is not probably endangering the plant, as it grows on many other hosts, particularly in its main area. For more information visit the Distribution pages. So a few mistletoe growths on a largeish tree will not have a major effect.

But too many mistletoe growths, particularly on small trees, will reduce host growth on all branches.

This will significantly affect the tree, reducing fruit crop e. To keep both mistletoe and host healthy you need to actively manage your mistletoe see the Management pages and the next FAQ below…. Some other mistletoe species around the world are major economic pests — affecting forestry crops and fruit yields. European mistletoe needs little management where it is on a large tree e.

Management is best done in the winter, when the host has lost its leaves and you can see all the mistletoe growths. Although capable of photosynthesis, it harvests most of its minerals, sugar, and water from the tissue of its host tree. Although dwarf mistletoes can be serious forests pests in other parts of North America, none of the foresters I checked with seemed much concerned with A. Marshall Patmos, the former county forester for Cheshire County, New Hampshire and a Christmas tree farmer, takes a tolerant view of mistletoe infestations.

Many Christmas tree customers, he says, prefer trees with a little character. Unlike leafy mistletoe, which relies mainly on birds, dwarf mistletoe turns its seeds into ammunition.

Mistletoe Traditions

In early spring, approximately five years after the plant germinates, it sends up sprouts. These grow about three centimeters high before producing drab, greenish-brownish flowers. Once pollination occurs, male sprouts wither and fall off. The empty basal cups, where sprouts once grew, look a bit like sapsucker holes.

The female sprouts linger until autumn, incubating single-seeded berries. So how does the mistletoe launch its seeds? As each berry ripens, a mucilaginous layer of cells called viscin develops underneath the seed.

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The viscin attracts water from the rest of the plant, resulting in increasing hydrostatic pressure in the berry. At the same time, on the opposite upper side of the berry, cells begin to die off near the stem. Holiday season safety.


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  7. Adult supervision is pivotal for safe holidays. EMS Mag. Case 1.

    Mistletoe science and folklore

    Some decorative American mistletoe was still hanging in a home in February. As it was taken down, dried leaves fell to the floor. His mother called Poison Control and was advised to give him something to drink and watch for gastrointestinal upset. When Poison Control followed up 6 hours later, the boy was fine. Case 2. A family decorated a holiday dessert with European mistletoe leaves and berries grown on their US property. A 3-year-old boy ate berries and leaves but didn't have any symptoms.

    His father, who witnessed the event, called Poison Control.

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    Poison Control recommended giving a snack and something to drink and washing the child's hands. Poison Control also instructed the father to watch the child for vomiting, confusion and drowsiness over the next several hours. When Poison Control checked back by phone 4 hours later and again the next day, the father reported the child was fine. Mistletoe should not be used to decorate food! Share this:.