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Mistletoe-A Holiday Favorite and a Tree Curse

Written by Mindy on December 3rd, 2014

While mistletoe is a holiday favorite, it can also be a curse or a death sentence to a tree.  The key to controlling this parasitic plant is two-fold.  First is understanding the plant itself and second, making sure everyone else understands the lifecycle of mistletoe.

In just, mistletoe is spread by birds.  Mother Nature has made the little white berries a very tasty treat for many different bird species including robins and cedar waxwings.  The birds eat the fruit and then distribute the seeds in their waste.

Another way mistletoe spreads is through the berries just dropping off the plant and landing on a tree branch.  Regardless of how the seeds get on the tree, the next step in this process is the germination of the seed.  Once the seed has germinated, the roots of the seedling will break through the bark of the tree and attach itself to the connective tissue of the tree, which is where it will receive its water.  After that occurs, the roots will continue to grow through this connective tissue and will eventually kill the branch it is only.  Why does this occur?  The true fact is the parasitic mistletoe will literally suck the life out of the branch or in other words prevent water and nutrients from moving up the branch.

mistletoeWhile you can spend your time manually removing the mistletoe, this approach can be very time consuming and is not very successful.  Another approach is to smoother the plant out.  To do this, you would manually remove the mistletoe and then cover the branch with black plastic.  This will then block out sunlight, which the mistletoe needs for photosynthesis.  Yes, this approach will work on a small scale but it takes many years to kill the mistletoe.

If you really want to kill mistletoe, it takes a two-prong approach.   First, you will have to get the help of your neighbors.  To control mistletoe, everyone in the community will need to agree to remove all mistletoe, and trees heavily infested with this parasitic plant.  Second, everyone will need to consent to only plant trees that are resistant to mistletoe.  This includes trees such as redwood, cedar, crape myrtle, sycamore, ginkgo, and Bradford flowering pear.

Yes, I know that mistletoe has a nostalgic feel to it.  Who has not stood under the mistletoe for that kiss but when it comes to plant care it can be a death sentence.  While the solution to mistletoe problem is a little unrealistic, the key to control is monitoring your own property and removing the parasitic plant as soon as it appears.


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