Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Mistletoe - Friend or Foe?

Celtic and European traditions have long associated mistletoe with our Christmas holiday.   The American oak mistletoe, Phorandendron serotium, is found in deciduous trees, mainly laurel oak trees, making it easy to see in the wintertime.  Mistletoe can also infest elms, hackberries, sycamores, and wild cherry trees. 

Mistletoe is a friend of butterflies and birds. The epiphyte is the sole host plant for the blue hairstreak butterfly.  The evergreen succulent leaves hold berries that are spread from tree to tree by birds and wind.

Despite the wildlife benefits and jolly seasonal use, mistletoe is a parasite.  Sapping the water and nutrition from its host, mistletoe can kill stressed trees.  Deciding on whether to remove mistletoe should be based on the location of the pest. If it is located in the tree close to the ground, then a homeowner should be able to remove it easily. The mistletoe roots must be removed to eradicate it.  Cutting the branch off six inches below the mistletoe's location.  But if it is in the higher branches of the tree, have it removed by a certified arborist to prevent damaging the tree's structure.

Mistletoe is easily seen in autumn.
The other method of removing mistletoe is by using a chemical growth regulator, Ethephon, that can only be applied in winter time when the tree is dormant. Ethephon is only available thought a licensed pest control operator. 

Mistletoe is poisonous, so be careful to keep out of range of pets and animals. Wash hands and clothing with hot soapy water after pruning or touching.

So is mistletoe friend or foe?  I'll let you decide.

Mistletoe - IFAS

Mistletoe - Web of Life

New Tropical Mistletoe Discovered

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