Six mistletoe facts you didn't know

Dec 18, 2013
In honor of the holidays, we bring you these fun facts to ponder as you snog underneath this festive plant.

Few things can bring as much magic to the holidays as mistletoe. But as you take a hit of Binaca to prepare for your next mistletoe moment, briefly consider these fun facts about the plant above you. Then, go ahead—get lost in the romance of embracing underneath a parasite.

  • The typical mistletoe we hang here in the U.S. during the holidays is the leafy mistletoe, Poradendron tomentosum. However, the mistletoes we encounter in the wild in Central Oregon are dwarf mistletoes (Arceuthobium) and juniper mistletoe (Phoradendron juniperinum). Both are parasitic plants.
  • The genus name for juniper mistletoe, Phoradendron, is derived from Greek and means “thief of the tree.” This name alludes to the parasitic habits of this mistletoe—it produces its own chlorophyll but steals water minerals and other nutrients from its host. Dwarf mistletoes are completely dependent on their hosts.
  • The word Mistletoe is believed to come from the Anglo-saxon words mistal (dung) and tan (twig). So basically, you’re kissing under a dung twig. The plant was so named because it was thought to spread through bird droppings.
  • The seeds of dwarf mistletoe can explode from ripe berries at speeds up to nearly 50 miles per hour, traveling as far as 50 ft. The seeds are very sticky and adhere to the surfaces on which they land. This is the primary way dwarf mistletoes spread from tree to tree. Other times seeds hitchhike on the backs of birds and mammals.
  • Dwarf mistletoe species are host-specific, meaning that they are capable of living solely on one type of tree. Some of the dwarf mistletoes we have in Central Oregon include: larch dwarf mistletoe (principal hosts: larch, mountain hemlock, lodgepole pine), western dwarf mistletoe (principal host: ponderosa pine), fir dwarf mistletoe (principal hosts: white and grand fir), douglas-fir dwarf mistletoe (principal host: douglas-fir), and true mistletoe (principal host: juniper).
  • Dwarf mistletoes are a natural part of forests. Although severe infestations of mistletoe will kill host trees and damage forests, mild infestations can be advantageous. Mistletoe provides food and habitat for a diversity of wildlife. Owls, raptors, and songbirds nest in the witches’ broom branch formations that the mistletoes cause. The plant is also a nutrient rich food source for chipmunks, American martens, mule deer and elk. Juniper mistletoe produce berries that commonly feed birds including American robins, Townsend’s solitaires cedar waxwings, and mountain bluebirds.