Where does mistletoe grow? You might be surprised to find out that this favorite holiday sight is a bane of nurseries and arboretums.
Why Arborists Hate Mistletoe
Mistletoes are parasitic evergreen plants that grow on the branches of trees. Mistletoe grows as bushes that can be from two to five feet in diameter. Though it will grow on most deciduous trees, mistletoe prefers trees with soft bark, such as older apple trees. Hawthorn, ash and lime are also favorites of the mistletoe if apple trees are not available.
Mistletoe flowers ripen into berries that are sticky. When they come into contact with a tree, either on the wind or dropped from the wings of a bird, the berries stick to the bark. After a few days, the berry will send out a flattened, threadlike root. The root will eventually pierce the bark, allowing the growing plant to live off the tree's resources. Mistletoe never gets nourishment from soil; nutrients and water always come from the host tree.
Mistletoe itself seldom kills a tree, but the growing mistletoe plant can cause branches to die off and rot. The roots of mistletoe also present an easy path for fungal infections and wood-boring insects. Mistletoe does provide a valuable habitat for some bird species, but its tendency to spread quickly sends most gardeners looking for a quick way to get rid of it.
What Does Mistletoe Look Like?
There are several varieties of mistletoe, but commonly the stem is smooth and forked with a yellowish tint to it. The leaves are a dull, yellow-green color and are about one to three inches in length. The end of the leaf is generally wider than the rest of the leaf. The flowers are inconspicuous and can be found in the forks of the stems, usually arranged in threes. Mistletoe blooms in May. The berries are white and ripen in December.
Mistletoe can be found on most of the European continent and certain areas of Great Britain. It is very common in Herefordshire and Worcestershire, and can rarely be found in Scotland. Mistletoe also has a species that grows in South Africa.
Several mistletoes are common in the United States. These varieties are closer to the European strains than the South African strains. American mistletoes choose subtropical and tropical regions and grow best on elm and red maple trees. These mistletoes bloom in February and March, instead of May, but still produce berries in December.
Large infestations of mistletoe are capable of killing trees. Find out what to do if your trees get infected.
Is mistletoe poisonous? Learn about how to take precautions if you'll hang it in a home with children or pets.