It’s that time of the year so I thought I’d jot down a few notes about mistletoe. For the definitive statement on all things mistletoe’y I’d recommend a visit to www.mistletoe.org.uk run by Jonathan Briggs – this will definitely tell you everything you ever wanted to know about this parasitic plant. I’ll confine my ramblings to a few of my own observations about a plant that I have encountered only occasionally over the past thirty years of working with trees.
First, as mentioned above, mistletoe is a true parasite, i.e. it needs a host plant on which to live and draw its nourishment from. Its preferred host is the cultivated apple and I’ve certainly seen it quite a few times on various apple trees in East Devon and further afield. France seems to have plenty of it on old apple trees in the more rural parts of the country. The most mistletoe I’ve ever seen in one place was many years ago on an avenue of mature lime trees, somewhere in Hampshire. I was undertaking a contract with Southern Electric to cut back vegetation growing near to the high voltage power lines and had to prune many of these trees. Every tree was festooned with masses of mistletoe and we ended up with two or three large clumps of the plant that had to be removed with the host branches as part of the line clearance works. I remember bringing one home, maybe about three or four feet in diameter and having difficulty lifting it out of the truck – it is surprisingly heavy en-masse.
Other favourite hosts are Poplar (there has been a clump near Clyst bridge in Topsham for many years, and you can often see it on the M5 between Cullompton and Exeter) and Hawthorn (allegedly, though I don’t recall ever seeing it on that species). There is a largish clump on the big Horse Chestnut at the top of Gipsy Lane in Exmouth and I‘ve seen it on a few Robinias from time to time. None of the trees on which I’ve seen mistletoe growing seem to be affected in any way by its growth, though I would imagine that heavy infestations might reduce the vigour of some trees. Despite all the druidical lore regarding Oak trees and mistletoe it is extremely rare in this country on Oak.