- How to grow mistletoe
- 12 Things to Know about Mistletoe
- Happy Holidays!
- The Tradition of Mistletoe at Christmas
- How Mistletoe Works
- 9. Where does it grow?
- 10. How does mistletoe spread?
- 11. What to look for if you’re buying mistletoe
- 12. You can grow it yourself
- 8 Mistletoe Facts That Are So Weird, They Might Make You Rethink This Holiday Tradition
- 1. Mistletoe isn’t something you want in your backyard.
- 2. It can be used as an effective poison.
- 3. Mistletoe might be able to fight cancer.
- 4. Mistletoe doesn’t have a scent.
- 5. It was once used to ward off witches.
- 6. It plays a huge role in Norse mythology.
- 7. Mistletoe actually has a bunch of different names.
- 8. The translation of “mistletoe” is kind of gross.
- Mistletoe Control Info: How To Get Rid Of Mistletoe Plants
- Mistletoe in Trees
- Non-chemical Mistletoe Control
- How to Get Rid of Mistletoe with Chemicals
- Will Mistletoe Kill My Trees?
- Kiss Mistletoe Goodbye This Season For Better Tree Health
- Real Mistletoe
- Care Of Mistletoe: How To Grow Mistletoe Plants
- Can You Grow Your Own Mistletoe Plant?
- How to Grow Mistletoe
- Care of Mistletoe
- Where to Buy Real Mistletoe
- Buy Real Mistletoe Online
- Where to Buy Artificial Mistletoe
- Buy Artificial Mistletoe Online
Many people (particularly in Britain) want to grow their own mistletoe – but often get conflicting advice on how to do it.
There is almost a whole mythology about it, based on confused understanding of what mistletoe needs and how it grows.
A few of the usual myths (often repeated by gardening ‘experts’ in magazines, newspapers and television) are listed below. Some of these myths are completely counter-productive and following them will minimise, not maximise, your chance of success!
- “seeds have to pass through a bird to germinate” – not true
- “seeds need the fertilisation from bird droppings to germinate” – not true
- “seeds should be placed under a flap in the host bark” – not true
- “seeds should be covered in muslin/raffia/etc to hold them in place” – not true
- “seeds must be planted on the same host as their parent plant” – not true
- “the best location is in old fissured bark” – not true
Scroll down to go straight to detailed instructions on how to grow your own, or Grow-Your-Own Kits.
Remember this website is about the Viscum album the traditional mistletoe of Europe. Growing advice given here is for that species, and may not be suitable for other species of mistletoe.
How to grow mistletoe
There is much mis-information (see above) about mistletoe germination and how to grow your own. This section sets out helpful stage by stage instructions on how it should be done. The instructions are tailored to European Mistletoe Viscum album.
Germination can be divided into non-parasitic and parasitic phases. In the first the seed extends a green hypocotyl which bends towards the host surface. Once this is contacted it flattens to a sucker-shaped holdfast adhering to the host surface.
Once the holdfast is established the parasitic phase begins as the seedling begins to penetrate the host tissue stimulating the growth of a connecting organ or haustorium. The haustorium, which will appear as a swelling where the mistletoe is attached, is a mix of both host and mistletoe woody tissue.
Ignore most old gardening lore.
Disregard any advice you’ve heard or read that suggests cutting flaps in, and hiding seeds under, host bark! This is unnecessary and counter-productive – mistletoe seeds need intact healthy host bark, and light, to grow. They are naturally sticky, and so simply glue themselves onto the bark surface.
Don’t store seeds for long – and never in the dark.
Mistletoe seeds germinate best in February and March, not at Christmas. You can keep Christmas berries fresh by detaching them and leaving them in a shed window until mid-February – though this is not ideal.
And even if you keep them for a short time don’t keep them in the dark (and never in the fridge)! The seeds are actively photosynthetic and need to be kept in the light, otherwise they will die within a couple of weeks.
Be prepared to be patient
You’ll need a lot of berries to be sure of success. You need to time it right – success is much higher in February to March. Mistletoe grows very slowly in the first 4 years – so it’ll be some time before you get a significant plant. But it grows very fast once it’s well-established.
It is best to obtain fresh berries in February. If you’re worried about birds taking them try netting the parent plant at Christmas to ensure some are left. In most years this shouldn’t be a problem – there are usually still some berries left as late as April.
If you don’t have a local source you can buy fresh berries online (in Grow-Kits) at the English Mistletoe Shop.
In February, if the berries have been stored, rehydrate them for a few hours in a little water.
Whether fresh or stored, the seed needs to be squeezed out of the berry – you’ll find they come out enclosed in a ball of sticky jelly-like viscin. Collect several of these sticky seeds on your fingers. You’ll find they stick onto you rather well, and this is a convenient place to keep whilst planting on the tree. Try to remove as much of the jelly-like gluey viscin as possible, as the seeds seem to germinate better when fairly ‘clean’, and still stick on perfectly well with only a little glue remaining.
Choose your victim…
Then choose your host, bearing in mind European Mistletoe’s preferences – apple first, then poplars, limes, false acacia, hawthorn etc. Most trees and shrubs of the Rosaceae are suitable.
Remember that mistletoe is a parasite and will affect the growth of the branch it is on and, if on apple, will reduce fruit yield.
Avoid older branches and the trunk – they will be more difficult for the mistletoe – and anyway you don’t want mistletoe close to the trunk, it’s best to grow it well away from the centre of the tree.
Stick those half-dozen seeds you stuck on your hand onto the branch.
Label them! – with a plant label tied to the branch (it’s very easy to forget which branch you used and initial growth over 24 months is tiny so you may not spot the tiny seedlings).
Try to plant as many as possible, at least 20 berries at once, divided between 4 or so branches. Germination is easy (it will happen – but many will later die, or be eaten by birds and invertebrates.
And remember mistletoe is ‘diocieous’ – so each plant will be either male or female. This means you’ll need at least two plants, and maybe several, for berries…
By March/April your seeds should be germinating.
A few will already be mssing, eaten by birds or grazed off by invertebrates – but survivors should begin to look like those pictured here.
This is as big as they get in Year One – so be sure your label is tied securely to the branch or you’ll lose track of them by next year.
After 12 months…
In Year Two, your surviving seedlings may become more erect, but you’ll often see little growth – but as long as your shoots are still green your mistletoe should still be ok. If your seedlings have been grazed by slugs or snails they may be set back another year, but don’t despair, they can survive for some time as really tiny growths!
After 24 months…
In Year Three, if all’s gone well, you’ll probably get some proper leaves – though these may be tiny at first. If the plants have been set back this stage may not be until year 4 or 5.
After the first proper leaves the mistletoe plant will start to grow much more rapidly. Each branch bifurcates at least once a year – so the number of branches doubles. This picture is of two Year 4 seedlings, just about to start growing very fast.
Need more help?
For more guidance you might want to try a Grow-Your-Own Mistletoe Kit – you’ll find more information about these on the next page, or from our sister site The English Mistletoe Shop,
An arrow of death sent by the gods? A plague on entire forests? A little investigation reveals that mistletoe has quite a sordid story indeed—so where did all this business about Christmas and kissing come from? Here are nine things you need to know about mistletoe.
What sort of plant is it?
Mistletoe is definitely not your typical shrub—it’s a parasite that attacks living trees. Technically, mistletoes—there are over 1,000 species found throughout the world to which botanists ascribe the name—are actually hemi-parasites. This means they obtain a portion of their energy through photosynthesis, and the rest is extracted from other plants. Mistletoe species have evolved to plant themselves on hosts ranging from pine trees to cacti, but the species most commonly associated with European-based mistletoe mythologies (like kissing beneath it on Christmas) are typically found on large deciduous trees, like oaks.
Does mistletoe kill its hosts?
It can, eventually. The plant sends its tiny roots into the bark’s cambium layer, where it siphons off water and nutrients, slowly weakening the tree. A mature tree can withstand a small amount of mistletoe with no problem, but if it spreads profusely the tree will eventually die, one limb at a time, as the life is literally sucked out of it. However, mistletoe doesn’t take out whole forests like some diseases—just a tree here and there. Ecologists actually view mistletoe as an important part of a healthy ecosystem, as the berries are a major food source for birds, who also find the dense foliage useful for nesting—and the dead trees become purchase for raptors.
How does it get up in trees to begin with?
Mistletoe reproduces by seeds, just like any other plant, but has evolved special adaptations to keep its seeds from falling to the ground, where they would be unable to sprout and develop into a mature plant. If you squeeze open the whitish semi-translucent berries—by the way, don’t eat the fruit, as some species are poisonous—you’ll find that the seeds are incredibly sticky. They are covered with a glue-like substance called viscin, so they stick to whatever they fall on. They mostly fall on branches high up in trees because the berries are a favorite wintertime snack for birds, who then excrete the seeds where they roost.
Has mistletoe always been associated with wintertime rituals?
No, but it was revered by a variety of ancient cultures. One of the most famous legends concerns the Norse god Baldur, who was considered invincible until an unknown assailant finally killed a him with an arrow made from mistletoe. Separately, in an ancient Celtic ceremony, Druids would sacrifice two white bulls, then climb an oak tree to fetch some mistletoe to make an elixir that was said to cure infertility. This is believed to be the origin of mistletoe’s association with love and romance.
How did the Christmas connection come about?
Historians are fuzzy on the matter, but it seems that mistletoe’s association with fertility and ritual and wintertime slowly morphed into the modern Christmas tradition. It makes sense that mistletoe, with its evergreen foliage and attractive red berries, would be brought indoors as decoration during the barren winter months, just as people do with fir boughs and holly branches.
It is believed that by the 18th century, kissing under the mistletoe at Christmas time was a fairly widespread tradition, though the first clear historical reference comes from 1820 when Washington Irving, author of Sleepy Hollow and The Headless Horseman, wrote of the plant: “the mistletoe, with its white berries, hung up, to the imminent peril of all the pretty housemaids.”
Is it good for anything besides kissing and bird food?
Quite a bit, actually, especially in the realm of health. Historically, mistletoe has been used to treat not just infertility, but epilepsy, hypertension, arthritis and many other ailments. In modern times, it has gained a reputation as an anti-cancer herb, and while numerous studies have been conducted to look into this claim, there is little in the way of conclusive evidence regarding its efficacy. Still, pharmaceutical preparations of mistletoe are available in Switzerland, the Netherlands and the UK. In the U.S., mistletoe extract is sold by herbal suppliers, but the FDA has not approved it as a cancer treatment.
Where did the name come from?
The English word for the plant is derived from a defunct Anglo-Saxon dialect. Apparently, having noticed that mistletoe often sprouts from bird droppings on tree branches, the words for dung—“mistel”—and twig—“tan”— were conjoined, and the mashup “misteltan” evolved over time into “mistletoe.”
Can you farm it?
You would think this would be a losing proposition given that the plant eventually destroys its host, but there actually are people who farm mistletoe commercially. More often, though, the mistletoe you see at a florist in the winter is wild harvested. If you have access to wooded land, you can “plant” mistletoe seeds for your own picking come Christmas.
How do you grow it?
For best results, harvest seeds from mistletoe in the early spring, when the fruit is fully ripe. The tree harboring the mistletoe you collect seeds from should be the same species as the one on which you will grow your own. Cut a slit into a tender piece of bark as high in the canopy as you can safely reach, and deposit the seeds there, spacing them a few inches apart. The more seeds you plant the better, as the germination rate is low. There is no need for water or fertilizer. For protection from birds, tie a strip of burlap over the seeds. Have patience, as it takes at least five years for the plants to mature and produce berries.
More stories from Modern Farmer:
- The Strange, Horrifying History of Cherry Research Farm in North Carolina
12 Things to Know about Mistletoe
The white berries of mistletoe plants are poisonous to humans but valuable food to many other species.
Often used as a symbol of renewal because it stays green all winter, mistletoe is famed for its stolen-kisses power. But the plant also is important to wildlife, and it may have critical value for humans, too. Extracts from mistletoe—newly used in Europe to combat colon cancer, the second greatest cause of cancer death in Europe and the Americas—show signs of being more effective against cancer, and less toxic to humans, than standard chemotherapy.
Here are some mistletoe facts that may give you new respect for a plant that, until now, you might have considered as just an excuse to limber up your lips:
- There are 1,300 mistletoe species worldwide. The continental United States and Canada are home to more than 30 species, and Hawaii harbors another six.
- Globally, more than 20 mistletoe species are endangered.
- All mistletoes grow as parasites on the branches of trees and shrubs. The genus name of North America’s oak mistletoe—by far the most common species in the eastern United States—is Phoradendron, Greek for “tree thief.”
- Ancient Anglo-Saxons noticed that mistletoe often grows where birds leave droppings, which is how mistletoe got its name: In Anglo-Saxon, “mistel” means “dung” and “tan” means “twig,” hence, “dung-on-a-twig.”
- Mistletoes produce white berries, each containing one sticky seed that can attach to birds and mammals for a ride to new growing sites. The ripe white berries of dwarf mistletoe, native to the western United States and Canada, also can explode, ejecting seeds at an initial average speed of 60 miles per hour and scattering them as far as 50 feet.
- When a mistletoe seed lands on a suitable host, it sends out roots that penetrate the tree and draw on its nutrients and water. Mistletoes also can produce energy through photosynthesis in their green leaves.
- As they mature, mistletoes grow into thick, often rounded masses of branches and stems until they look like baskets, sometimes called “witches’ brooms,” which can reach 5-feet wide and weigh 50 pounds.
- Trees infested with mistletoe die early because of the parasitic growth, producing dead trees useful to nesting birds and mammals. A mistletoe-infested forest may produce three times more cavity-nesting birds than a forest lacking mistletoe.
- A variety of birds nest directly in witches’ brooms, including house wrens, chickadees, mourning doves and pygmy nuthatches. Researchers found that 43 percent of spotted owl nests in one forest were associated with witches’ brooms and that 64 percent of all Cooper’s hawk nests in northeastern Oregon were in mistletoe. Several tree squirrel species also nest in witches’ brooms.
Mistletoe grows in tangled balls of stems that can be up to five feet across. They’re sometimes called witches’ brooms.
- Three kinds of U.S. butterflies depend on mistletoe for survival: the great purple hairstreak, the thicket hairstreak and the Johnson’s hairstreak. These butterflies lay eggs on mistletoe, and their young eat the leaves. The adults of all three species feed on mistletoe nectar, as do some species of native bees.
- The mistletoe’s white berries are toxic to humans but are favored during autumn and winter—when other foods are scarce—by mammals ranging from deer and elk to squirrels, chipmunks and porcupines. Many bird species, such as robins, chickadees, bluebirds, and mourning doves, also eat the berries.
- The kissing custom may date to at least the 1500s in Europe. It was practiced in the early United States: Washington Irving referred to it in “Christmas Eve,” from his 1820 collection of essays and stories, The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. In Irving’s day, each time a couple kissed under a mistletoe sprig, they removed one of the white berries. When the berries were all gone, so was the sprig’s kissin’ power.
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The Tradition of Mistletoe at Christmas
Mistletoe is a plant that grows on range of trees including willow, apple and oak trees. The tradition of hanging it in the house goes back to the times of the ancient Druids. It is supposed to possess mystical powers which bring good luck to the household and wards off evil spirits. It was also used as a sign of love and friendship in Norse mythology.
When the first Christians came to Western Europe, some tried to ban the use of Mistletoe as a decoration in Churches, but many still continued to use it! York Minster Church in the UK used to hold a special Mistletoe Service in the winter, where wrong doers in the city of York could come and be pardoned.
The custom of kissing under Mistletoe comes from England. The earliest recorded date mentioning kissing under the mistletoe is in 1784 in a musical. There was kissing under the mistletoe in the illustrations in the first book version of ‘A Christmas Carol’ published in 1843, and this might have helped to popularise kissing under the mistletoe. The original custom was that a berry was picked from the sprig of Mistletoe before the person could be kissed and when all the berries had gone, there could be no more kissing!
The name mistletoe comes from two Anglo Saxon words ‘Mistel’ (which means dung) and ‘tan’ (which means) twig or stick! So you could translate Mistletoe as ‘poo on a stick’!!! Not exactly romantic is it!
Mistletoe was also hung on the old English decoration the Kissing Bough.
How Mistletoe Works
Mistletoe (Phoradendron flavescens or Viscum album) is a parasitic plant that grows on trees, particularly hardwood trees like oak and apple. A parasite is a plant or animal that needs another plant or animal to survive. As mistletoe grows on a tree and uses its roots to invade a tree’s bark, which allows mistletoe to absorb the tree’s nutrients. Sometimes, mistletoe can harm a tree and cause deformities in a tree’s branches, but usually it doesn’t kill its host. If the host dies, the mistletoe dies.
Mistletoe produces its own food by photosynthesis, and is able to live on its own, although it is mostly found in trees. It’s common for a mistletoe plant to grow on top of another mistletoe plant.
Mistletoe is easy to spot in the winter because its leaves stay green all year long. In the United States, it grows in tropical and subtropical regions (from New Jersey to Florida). Mistletoe has pointy, green, leathery leaves, with waxy berries that are either red or white. The plant’s flowers can be a wide variety of colors, from bright red to yellow to green.
Ingesting mistletoe can cause severe stomach cramps and diarrhea, and in some cases can be fatal. If you have mistletoe in your house this holiday season, be sure that it is in a place where children and pets won’t be able to get to it.
Spreading the Seed
The red-and-white berries that grow on mistletoe are eaten by birds that eventually leave their droppings at their favorite hang-out spot — on a tree branch. The droppings contain seeds that sprout roots into the tree branch. The birds also help spread the seed by wiping their beaks on the tree bark to clean off the sticky seeds after they’ve eaten. The seeds are sticky because of the juice inside the berry. This stickiness helps the seeds stay in the tree rather than falling to the ground. Within six weeks, the mistletoe plant begins growing, although it takes five years to flower.
In the next section, we’ll look at the history behind mistletoe and find out what ancient Druids used it for.
Figure 253. Phoradendron coryae in December.
True mistletoes are commonly known as the Christmas or leafy mistletoes. There are eight species in the Southwest, all within the genus Phoradendron. Three species occur on hardwoods, the other five infect conifers. Phoradendron macrophyllum has a very broad host range, occurring on most riparian tree species, while the other true mistletoes are genus specific.
Hosts: See table (below)
Symptoms/signs: True mistletoes are flowering plants with thick green stems. Plants are often round in form and up to 1 meter in diameter, depending on the species. Hardwood true mistletoes have thick green leaves that are nearly oval in shape, contrasting with conifer true mistletoes, which have small thin leaves or are nearly leafless. The small, sticky berries are white, pink or red and are ripe from October to January, depending on the species. Evergreen clumps of mistletoe are readily observed on bare deciduous trees in winter.
Figure 254. Phoradendron juniperinum with pink ripe berries.
Biology: Fruit-eating birds distribute the seeds in their droppings or by wiping their beaks. Some bird species swallow the fruit whole and disperse the seeds to another tree, while other bird species pick out the seed, leaving it on the host plant, and swallow only the pulp.
When the seeds germinate a modified root penetrates the bark of the host and forms a connection through which water and nutrients pass from the host to the mistletoe. It takes approximately 2 to 3 years for shoots to develop, following initial infection, and another year before the plant is producing berries.
Figure 255. True mistletoe on juniper.
Effects: Young or small trees are seldom infected by true mistletoe. In nearly all cases, initial infection occurs on larger or older trees because birds prefer to perch in the tops of taller trees. Severe buildup of mistletoe often occurs within an infected tree because birds are attracted to and may spend prolonged periods feeding on the mistletoe berries. True mistletoes are not aggressive pathogens. They use the host xylem as a water source and do not cause mortality until water availability to the host is limited. In some hosts, infected portions of the tree often exhibit galls on branches or burls in the trunk. On oaks, sycamores, and cottonwoods, branch dieback is associated with galls formed by the corresponding mistletoe.
Similar Insects and Diseases: Deformities caused by canker and rust fungi can resemble those caused by mistletoe.
References: 26, 36, 85, 93
Figure 256. Phoradendron macrophyllum on Arizona sycamore.
Figure 257. Phoradendron californicum has red berries that ripen in winter.
Figure 258. Desert mistletoe plants are red when full of fruit.
|Common Name||Species||Principal Host||Distribution|
|Bigleaf mistletoe||Phoradendron macrophyllum (Engelm.) Cockerell||Most riparian hardwood species, except oaks||Throughout lower elevation riparian areas of both states|
|Southwestern oak mistletoe||Phoradendron coryae Trel.||Oak species||Throughout live oak woodlands and lower elevation gambel oak areas of both states|
|Desert mistletoe||Phoradendron californicum Nutt.||Leguminous trees and shrubs (e.g. Mesquite (Prosopis spp.), Acacia (Acacia spp.), Palo Verde (Cercidium spp.), and ironwood (Olneya spp.)||Throughout the ranges of host types in Arizona and extreme southwest corner of New Mexico|
|Juniper mistletoe||Phoradendron juniperinum Engelmann||All juniper species||Throughout juniper woodlands of Arizona and New Mexico|
|Hairy juniper mistletoe||Phoradendron capitellatum Torr. ex Tel.||Utah, alligator and red-berry juniper||Southern Arizona and southwest New Mexico|
|Texas juniper mistletoe||Phoradendron hawksworthii Wiens & CG Shaw||Alligator and one-seed juniper||Southeastern New Mexico|
|Dense mistletoe||Phoradendron densum Torr. ex Tel.||Arizona cypress||Central Arizona|
|White fir true mistletoe||Phoradendron pauciflorum Torr.||White fir||Santa Catalina Mountains of southeast Arizona|
Figure 259. True mistletoes are easy to spot on deciduous trees like this mesquite tree.
Figure 260. Phoradendron densum on Arizona cypress.
Figure 261. Phoradendron hawksworthii on juniper in New Mexico.
Figure 262. Phoradendron pauciflorum often kills tops of infected white fir.
9. Where does it grow?
Mainly in the traditional cider apple growing counties of Somerset, Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire but elsewhere too. Tenbury Wells in Worcestershire has an annual holly and mistletoe market.
N.B. Don’t gather mistletoe without permission from the landowner.
10. How does mistletoe spread?
Mainly by courtesy of the neat and efficient blackcap. This bird wipes the sticky seed off its beak onto a branch before swallowing the berry skin and pulp. The gluey pulp around the seed hardens and keeps it in position. Some scientists suggest that changing blackcap migration patterns may be helping to spread mistletoe further across the country.
Other birds do eat mistletoe berries and excrete the seed in their droppings, but this method is naturally more hit and miss.
11. What to look for if you’re buying mistletoe
Look for fresh green foliage and plump white berries, freshly gathered (ask when, to be sure). It will keep for two to three weeks if it is stored in a cool place such as a shed or garage.
12. You can grow it yourself
- February to April is the time as berries will be ripe. Don’t use berries from Christmas decorations as these won’t be mature.
- Choose a suitable tree that’s at least 15 years old.
- Pick a fresh and healthy looking berry from mistletoe on a tree similar to the one on which you want to grow it. Or buy a growing kit.
- Choose a branch fairly high up, so the developing plant will receive plenty of light. It should be about 10cm (4in) or more round.
- Make a small, shallow cut to create a flap in the bark.
- Squash the berry to get the seed and push it under the flap. Sow quite a few seeds under each flap to increase your chance of success. Only one in ten seeds germinate, and both male and female plants are needed for berries to form.
- Cover the flap with hessian to protect the seeds from birds.
- The branch will swell as the plant develops, but it can take five years or so before berries are produced.
Planted seed on apple tree in 2008 and no sign of success until 2013. Then, baby mistletoe! ©Siaron James and reused under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
8 Mistletoe Facts That Are So Weird, They Might Make You Rethink This Holiday Tradition
Just like pine trees and poinsettias, mistletoe has long been associated with the Christmas holidays. It’s mostly hung over door frames in order to try and force two people (who might not even be together) to kiss underneath — but as these weird mistletoe facts prove, that’s not even the strangest thing about this festive plant.
Growing up, we had a slew of oak trees on the expanse of property behind our house that hosted mistletoe every year. And my mom, always thinking of ways to encourage my sister and I to be financially independent, suggested that we harvest the mistletoe, wrap little bows around the bundles, and sell them for a few bucks at her office. Kelley Girls’ Mistletoe was always a hit every year — my mom’s elderly clients really dug it, especially if we showed our rosy cheeked faces around the place — and we always ended up with a bit of cash to buy presents for our friends.
But man, if I knew then what I know now, my feminist heart would break that I perpetuated such a sexiest tradition. Not to mention, mistletoe is just kind of weird all around. From its poisonous nature to its superstitious past, this plant might be the oddest holiday staple ever.
1. Mistletoe isn’t something you want in your backyard.
Matt Cardy/Getty Images News/Getty Images
As festive as mistletoe might seem, you should be bummed if you find some in your flora. Mistletoe is actually a parasitic organism that steals water and nutrients from its host plant before eventually killing it. Unfortunately, it’s also a pretty resilient little cancer, especially if you leave it long enough for its seeds to spread. The best method for removal is to cut off the entire tree branch or plant stock you found it on.
2. It can be used as an effective poison.
Yeah, you read that right. The thing you’ve been hanging from your eves every holiday season can actually poison you if ingested. Mistletoe isn’t known to kill humans, but it can cause drowsiness, blurred vision, vomiting, and even seizures. It’s also poisonous to animals, so make sure your cats and dogs don’t get a hold of any leaves or berries either.
3. Mistletoe might be able to fight cancer.
As I mentioned, mistletoe acts a bit like cancer as it spreads through a plant’s cells — and it’s been used to treat cancer in humans for years. The use of mistletoe as an alternative cancer therapy is mostly used in the UK and in Europe, and it’s not an FDA-approved method in the United States. Despite some harmful side effects, injections of mistletoe have been shown to kill cancer cells in a laboratory setting, and help to decrease the after effects of standard cancer treatments.
4. Mistletoe doesn’t have a scent.
I’m sure we’ve all seen candles, soaps, mists, and air fresheners around the holidays that boast a mistletoe smell. But in reality, mistletoe doesn’t really smell like anything.
5. It was once used to ward off witches.
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Have you ever wondered why we hang mistletoe over doorways around Christmas time — besides the weird/gross tradition of forcing two people to kiss underneath it? Well, in medieval times, mistletoe was hung year-round to keep witches and ghosts from entering the house. Actually, mistletoe has a storied history, particularly with the Druid and Norse peoples, and was thought to ward off everything from infertility to fires.
6. It plays a huge role in Norse mythology.
Speaking of storied history, one of the most prominent stories surrounding mistletoe is the Norse story of Balder. Balder was the son of Odin and Frigg, and, like any mother, Frigg worried about her son getting hurt. They cataloged all the things in the nine realms that could possibly bring him harm, and Frigg convinced them all to leave him be, which made him virtually invulnerable. But the trickster god Loki got Balder’s mother to admit that the one thing she hadn’t asked was — you guessed it — mistletoe, because it seemed so small and insignificant. One thing led to another, and Loki threw the mistletoe at Balder, who died instantly.
7. Mistletoe actually has a bunch of different names.
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images News/Getty Images
There are more than a thousand different types of mistletoe, and the plants grow all over the world in a variety of climates, including the desert. So, needless to say, mistletoe isn’t the only thing it’s been called over the years. It also goes by birdlime, all-heal, golden bough, drudenfuss, iscador, and (the super weird) devil’s fugue.
8. The translation of “mistletoe” is kind of gross.
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Since most people associate mistletoe with kissing and festive holiday gatherings, you probably don’t want to know the etymology of the plant’s name. The original name was “mistaltan,” where “mistal” comes from the Anglo-Saxon word for “dung,” and “tan” means “twig.” Basically, mistletoe means “dung on a twig.” But, you know, keep making out under it or whatever.
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Mistletoe Control Info: How To Get Rid Of Mistletoe Plants
Mistletoe grows wild in many parts of Europe and North America. It is a parasitic plant that draws the host tree’s carbohydrates into itself. This activity can reduce the health of the particular branch to which the mistletoe is attached and minimize fruit yield. Orchard owners know how to get rid of mistletoe in order to increase crop production.
Controlling mistletoe plants is extremely important in areas like northern California where the plant is a pest and colonizes production orchards.
Mistletoe in Trees
Mistletoe in trees steals nutrients and water from the host tree. The little shrub-like plant sends out root type organs, called haustoria, into the cambium of the tree and pirates the tree’s carbohydrate and moisture sources. Overall, this doesn’t harm the tree a great deal unless there are many mistletoe plants on it. However, it can reduce the production of the tree since some of its resources are impacted.
Orchard situations are especially sensitive to the
presence of the parasite. It is easy to kill mistletoe growth, but the roots can be persistent and the plant may simply spring back. Simply cutting back the twigs and leaves will not kill mistletoe. You need to actively kill the roots and, therefore, the entire plant.
Non-chemical Mistletoe Control
A non-toxic way to remove mistletoe is to simply prune it out. In order to prevent harm to the tree, you may want to use the services of a certified arborist. They know best how to remove large pieces of wood without adversely affecting the tree’s health. If you do the pruning yourself, remove infested material back to the branch collar.
To kill mistletoe growth permanently, cut back the leaves and stems to the wood and then wrap the area with wide black polyethylene to block light and prevent it from re-sprouting. Consistently cutting out the growth will not kill the plant but will prevent it from flowering and fruiting, creating seeds that will spread the mistletoe.
How to Get Rid of Mistletoe with Chemicals
Controlling mistletoe with chemicals should be done by a professional and only in instances where other methods are not practical. Spring spraying of the growth regulator ethephon has been shown to have some effect.
The leaves of the mistletoe must be completely wet and the process needs to be done before the host tree has leafed out. Temperatures should be around 65 F. (18 C.). This is really more of a bandage on a boo-boo. Only some of the mistletoe will fall off, but the plant will slowly grow more.
Trees are able to withstand most mistletoe infestations, so removal is not absolutely necessary. Promote good health in the tree by giving it plenty of supplemental water and fertilizing in spring.
Will Mistletoe Kill My Trees?
Mistletoe is easiest to see in the winter months when deciduous trees drop their leaves.
Published January 28, 2010 By KEVIN BASSETT
Normally, the simple answer to this question is no. In and of itself, infection of a tree by mistletoe does not kill the host tree. However, mistletoe is a parasitic plant that steals water and minerals from a tree and derives its nutrition at the expense of the tree. When combined with other significant stresses, such as drought or construction injury, death can occur and mistletoe will have played a part in the tree’s demise.
The winter months are the most efficient months to remove mistletoe from deciduous trees, since with leaf drop, infection sites—particularly new locations are easiest to see. In heavily infested trees, complete eradication of mistletoe is next to impossible; however, control can be achieved with judicious pruning. The level of infestation can be managed to the benefit of the tree. The sooner the small young mistletoe plants are pruned away, the less chance further infection sites will develop. When you see the small white berries (seeds) on the mistletoe plant, you are about to see a dramatic increase in the number of infection sites throughout the tree. More infection sites will mean more of the tree’s water is being stolen, resulting in a greater loss of vigor. This opens the door for another stress agent to do even greater damage and accelerate the decline of tree health.
Posted by Mr. Kevin Bassett
About the author
Mr. Kevin Bassett
Mr. Bassett is a degreed plant pathologist, as well as a wood turner and artist. He is a self professed tree-hugger who gives new life to trees that have died by creating pieces of art from their wood. Mr. Bassett is a member of the certified arborist team at Arborilogical Services, “The Experts Your Trees Deserve.”®
Kiss Mistletoe Goodbye This Season For Better Tree Health
Trees infested with the sap-sucking parasite would like to kiss the Christmas novelty goodbye.
And that may become easier — even without holiday harvests — due to new research at the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station.
“Mistletoe is unsightly and adversely affects the health of trees,” said Dr. Todd Watson, Experiment Station urban forest researcher.
Watson completed the first year of a two-year study aimed at eliminating the pest from urban landscapes and found promising results with at least one new treatment — a plant hormone.
The problem with mistletoe is that it stays with the tree until the tree dies. Spread by birds who eat mistletoe, the parasitic plant grows from seed deposited in bird feces on tree limbs. Watson said mistletoe left unchecked can cause die-back of tree limbs and occasionally the death of the tree, especially in drought conditions.
“Mistletoe grows into the wood of the tree, drawing water and minerals out,” he said. “Mistletoe is a plant, so it makes its own nutrients from photosynthesis, but it is the tree’s water that it pulls from and that weakens the tree and causes stress.”
Yet that’s oft overlooked. For hundreds of years, mistletoe has been associated with various cultures in countries around the world as a plant symbolic either of peace or of romance. Its yuletide custom of suggesting a kiss underneath suspended mistletoe apparently is linked to English tradition.
But arborists have a decided lack of love for this parasite, stemming from the fact that mistletoe is especially hard to kill without harming the tree in the process, Watson explained.
“One can repeatedly cut off mistletoe to prevent it from making seed and therefore spreading, but that is very labor intensive,” he noted. “Or one can prune the infected branch, but that is only affective if there are a small number of branches with mistletoe.
“Some have covered affected limbs with black plastic to kill mistletoe by cutting it off from the sun,” Watson added, “but that is as unsightly as the mistletoe and very labor intensive. A chemical currently labeled for use against mistletoe has not been very effective in totally eliminating mistletoe in one application when used at the recommended label rates.”
To find a more reasonable, effective way to eliminate mistletoe, Watson tested eight different treatments in elm trees on the Texas A&M University campus. There was a controlled, untreated, group of trees; a group where mistletoe was pruned out; a group where entire branches were pruned; a group treated with the labeled chemical; a group in which the mistletoe infestations were covered with dark caulking; a group sprayed with glyphosate; a group treated with 2-4D; and a group treated with a specific plant hormone.
Watson said the trials were looking for at least 90 percent control in the 25 mistletoe plants treated in each group to be considered successful. The plant hormone yielded better than 90 percent control, he said.
The trial will be continued for another year and additional twists on the tests, such as developing formulations to improve the effectiveness of the plan hormones will be implemented, Watson said. If successful, the research said, the method likely will be patented for use on mistletoe throughout the United States.
Get your Christmas decorations stared with Real Mistletoe. This unique item comes with a custom red bow and is ready to use as soon as it arrives. There is no exact measurements and no two pieces are alike as these are real plants harvested from the tops of trees.
Long welcomed into homes during Christmas, mistletoe is a plant that grows in the branches of trees, including apple trees, lime, hawthorns, poplars, chestnuts, oaks, locusts, and firs.
Real Mistletoe is an evergreen that sports dense clusters of whorled, thick, leathery leaves.
Its flowers, which are tiny and yellow, are found on green, pointed stems. The plant grows to about a foot tall.Depending on the species, the flowers bloom in early fall or at the very end of winter or the very beginning of spring. Male and female flowers are sometimes found on different plants. Flowers are followed by white, shiny berries that are favorites of birds especially cedar waxwings and bluebirds. Sometimes trees will hold great flocks of these birds as they feast on the mistletoe berries which are covered with a sticky substance that they relish. The seed found in the berries clings to the birds’ beaks and are disbursed when the birds sharpen their beaks against tree bark. That enables another mistletoe plant to grow on the spot. Mistletoe is a member of the Loranthaceae family. This is a large family of about 500 species. The plant is found mostly in tropical and temperate regions.
Why is mistletoe a symbol of Christmas? Some historians claim that the Druids, which were the priestly class of the ancient Celts, cut mistletoe which grew on a sacred oak and gave to people to use as charms. Other European people used mistletoe in their ceremonies. During Christmas, mistletoe is hung in a doorway, and anyone caught standing beneath it must forfeit a kiss.
Please keep out of reach of children and animals. Can be harmful if ingested. We recommend hanging it on the ceiling or porch for all who walk under to get the biggest KISS EVER!
Care Of Mistletoe: How To Grow Mistletoe Plants
The winter holidays wouldn’t be the same without mistletoe to inspire kissing and add to the seasonal décor. The plant itself is an evergreen with numerous translucent white berries. It grows on host plants and has a definite preference for certain species. Can you grow your own mistletoe plant? You certainly can grow a mistletoe plant indoors on a small tree or outside on an established nurse plant.
Find out how to grow mistletoe for your own ready supply of kissing encouragement.
Can You Grow Your Own Mistletoe Plant?
Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that lives off another tree. Its favorite hosts are apple, hawthorn, lime, poplar and conifers. The plants bear seeds inside the berries. They are best planted when fresh and harvested between March and April. Check their preferred host trees for caches of the berries.
Of course, you will also need a host plant for the seeds to germinate and grow upon. Growing a mistletoe plant indoors will require a small potted tree for the seeds to latch onto. Orchard apples are perfect for mistletoe growing and may be seeded. The parasitic nature of the plant means it will take nutrients and moisture from the host, so be cautious which plants you choose to seed.
How to Grow Mistletoe
Only use fresh berries for mistletoe growing. You will
need to remove the seed from the berry. To do this, just squeeze out the seed and then rub off most of the sticky coating. Rinse the seed and then plant the seeds. In the wild, mistletoe grows on host plants but this condition is not necessary for germination.
Most species of mistletoe seed needs light for germination but can also sprout in moist seed flats. Use a potting mix with generous amounts of peat in a flat. Sow several seeds and mist the medium until damp. Place a lid or plastic over the flat and place it in a well lit area with temperatures at least 60 F. (16 C.).
The mistletoe will need to be moved to a host plant to grow on, but rooting can be sporadic. Ideally, you should just push the seeds into a host plant’s bark and spritz them daily with water to keep them moist. Germination may take several months depending on the light, moisture and temperature conditions.
Some schools of thought say you need to make a cut in the bark of the host tree and push the seeds inside, but this is not strictly necessary. No matter how you do plant, fruiting may take four to six years from germination.
Make a cut in a host tree’s bark for transplant. Seedlings are ready for transplant when they have several true leaves. Insert the roots into the cut bark and pack with moist moss. Keep the area misted until the seedling attaches to the host.
Care of Mistletoe
Mistletoe is not prone to damage from insects and has few disease problems. The plants are diocieous, which means each is either male or female. The slow growth rate means you won’t know which you have until about year four. If you just get flowers but no berries, your plant is male. This is why it is important to plant several seeds at the same time.
The care of mistletoe is minimal, but you will want to give the host plant some extra TLC as the mistletoe saps some of its energy. Apply fertilizer in spring, watch the host for pest and disease problems and keep the host tree watered.
Mistletoe will take off after the fourth year and is very hardy, even to the point of becoming a nuisance. It gets all its needs from the air and the host plant. In some areas, like California, prevention and control are the issue with mistletoe, which spreads like wildfire. Ensure that you are not adding to the problem when you plant outside. If there is any concern, try growing a mistletoe plant indoors instead.
Most of us celebrate Christmas with plenty of traditions: ornaments hanging from a Christmas tree, stockings full of presents, and even kissing under the mistletoe!
We’ll spare you the details about what Mistletoe actually means in German, but it has long been a holiday tradition that if two people stand beneath the hanging plant, they have to kiss. It’s unclear when or why people began smooching under the mistletoe, but the custom has been around long enough to be referenced in one of Washington Irving’s stories from 1820. Before that, the plant has symbolized romance and fertility in the times of Ancient Greece.
So, if you’re looking for a vintage holiday touch, a hanging ball of mistletoe is an easy way to brighten your place up with some picture-perfect Christmas cheer. Plus, it will definitely make your Christmas party more interesting. Here’s where to buy mistletoe online and in the stores.
Where to Buy Real Mistletoe
Since inventory varies from store to store, you should always call ahead or check your local store’s website before heading there. Some places you can try are:
- Home Depot
- The garden section of your local Walmart
- Your local florist
- Your closest Christmas tree farm
Believe it or not, it may be easier to order mistletoe online from retailers like the Oregon-based Triumph Plant. Etsy also has large selection of fresh and dried mistletoe decorations like the ones below.
Buy Real Mistletoe Online
Fresh Hanging Mistletoe Boxwood Manor Farm etsy.com $29.99 Fresh Picked Mistletoe Joshua Tree Finds etsy.com $18.50 Mistletoe Tied With LAce Haberdashery Co etsy.com $30.00 Ball of Mistletoe Boxwood Manor Farm etsy.com $54.99
Where to Buy Artificial Mistletoe
Artificial hanging mistletoe is a little easier to find. Plus, you can use it year after year. If you’re looking for artificial mistletoe, the best places to check are:
- The Christmas Tree Shop (of course!)
- Home Goods
- Bed, Bath and Beyond
Like anything else you could possibly need, artificial mistletoe is also available on Amazon. Here are some of our some of mistletoe decorations that you can get delivered to your doorstep in two days.
Buy Artificial Mistletoe Online
Red and Gold Mistletoe Ganz amazon.com $12.64 Mistletoe Bouquet RAZ Imports amazon.com $17.95 Mistletoe with Red Ribbon tag amazon.com $16.99 Felt Mistletoe Sullivan amazon.com $14.95