Tis the season for mistletoe! Most would agree that the Christmas season and mistletoe go hand in hand. I remember my dad shooting it out of the trees when I was a youngster. According to folklore, after every kiss under the mistletoe one of the berries was plucked, and once all the berries where gone, there was no more kissing.
American mistletoe can be found all throughout eastern and southern forest of the US, and is especially fond of maple trees. It’s unveiled each year when the last of the leaves fall from the trees and reveal their clumps of green, ball-shaped foliage growing among the tree branches.
There’s more to mistletoe than just holiday tradition. Believe it or not, it plays an important part in our ecosystem. Mistletoe is a host plant for the great purple hairstreak butterfly, and is the only plant that its larva will eat.
Mistletoe is also a good winter food source for birds. Birds feast on the female mistletoe’s white berries, which are toxic to humans, and then spread the sticky seeds to other trees through their droppings. From there it takes root into the tree. It’s considered a hemiparasite because it doesn’t live entirely off the tree. Mistletoe generates its own photosynthesis; however, it does depend on the tree for its food and water, enough so that the tree could die from a heavy infestation – but in most cases, that’s not the case.
For the most part, this unique native is harmless and its benefits to wildlife and our holiday enjoyment outweigh its potential invasiveness.
I want to personally wish everyone a happy and safe holiday!!