Mistletoe – Viscum album

Toolbox Talk

5th December 2019 | Info

Common name: Mistletoe

Scientific Name: Viscum album

Introduction: Mistletoe is an evergreen wildflower that lives off of trees and is a popular Christmas plant/decoration. It has parasitic qualities and particularly favours host trees such as apple, poplar and lime. 

Identification

Leaves: Small, ovate leaves that are evergreen and leathery and form on green branching stems in pairs.

Fruit: Small, waxy and white berries that grow in clusters, appearing and lasting from October to May. Within the berries are sticky seeds that proceed to stick to the beaks of birds who feed on the fruit, in turn helping mistletoe to spread quickly.

Reproduction:

Mistletoe is dioecious (meaning there are separate male and female plants). Flowers are small, white and form in clusters of 3-5. Female flowers develop in white berries which are then eaten by birds who then have a sticky pulp attached to their beaks. These birds will then either wipe off or excrete the seedy substance onto branches. The pulp then hardens, locking in the seed. As new mistletoe begins to form, the roots then penetrate the bark and start to live off of that tree.

Impact on Trees:

Mistletoe is hemiparasitic meaning they live off of trees, feeding on their water and nutrients. Mistletoe attaches to their host trees through sucker roots which is how they then absorb nutrients and water. However, they do also produce their own food source through photosynthesis. 

Ecological Importance:

Despite most birds preferring brighter berries, Mistletoe berries are favoured by birds such as Redwings and Fieldfares in the winter months as they provide them with a valuable food source. They also have mistletoe-specific living insects such as the Mistletoe Marble Moth and Mistletoe Weevil that live off of them.

Spread and Control:

Mistletoe spreads very quickly as birds that feed off of the berries go from tree to tree. The best way to control and prevent the spread of mistletoe is to prune out infected branches as soon as they appear or as soon as you spot them. Typically, thinning pruning techniques are ideal for removing these diseased branches.

Interesting Facts:

Mistletoe is commonly used as a Christmas plant/decoration and is traditionally hung above door frames. When two people pass underneath, the tradition is that a kiss is to be exchanged. An extension to this is that for every kiss a berry is removed. Additionally, in the middle-ages, mistletoe was believed to have held magical properties that would warn of witches and other evil entities.

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