P&PDL Picture of the Week for
December 20, 2010

Mistletoe - A Holiday Tradition

Compiled by Gail Ruhl, Plant & Pest Diagnostic Lab, Purdue University

Although most folks think of mistletoe in association with kissing around the Christmas holiday, it is really a plant disease!

Mistletoe is a parasitic seed plant. It is known as a hemi-parasite since it obtains some nourishment from its hosts, by tapping into the flow of water and minerals, but also uses it's own chlorophyll to produce its own food through photosynthesis. There are several types of mistletoe, including American Mistletoe and European Mistletoe. These two are different, but related, species of parasitic shrubs. Both have small, leathery leaves and translucent, white berries and are particularly fond of trees, such as apple, hawthorn, linden and oak.

It is reported that American Mistletoe, Phoradendron sp., can be found in trees from New Jersey to Florida and west to southern Illinois and Texas. Though you can sometimes purchase seed of the American Mistletoe, it is generally not successful in cultivation. The seeds actually germinate on the host plant and parasitize (tap in) immediately.

Even though mistletoe is an important pollen and nectar plant for bees, provides high-protein food for many animals and butterflies lay their eggs on the plants and use the nectar as food, the berries and foliage of mistletoe can cause severe digestive upset if eaten and in rare instances may be fatal in humans. Plastic mistletoe is a safe holiday alternative.

What Does Mistletoe Have To Do With Christmas?

Fun Facts About Mistletoe

Click image to enlarge

Mistletoe berries


Purdue Plant & Pest Diagnostic Lab Purdue Cooperative Extension Service