Viscum album

Family: Santalaceae

Countries: Africa, Albania, Algeria, Austria, Balearic Islands, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, China, Corsica, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, England, Europe, France, Germany, Greece, Himalayas, Hungary, Iran, Italy, Lebanon, Middle East, Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal, Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tibet, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Vietnam, Wales, Yugoslavia

In the UK, Viscum album is normally referred to by its common name, Mistletoe.  Mistletoe grows up in the branches of trees where it forms spherical ball-shaped plants comprised of many stems holding pairs of lovely fresh-green coloured, leathery leaves.  This evergreen shrub produces tiny white flowers followed by shiny white berries.  The oval leaves are borne in pairs and are very attractive and are naturally enhanced by the edition of gleaming Mistletoe berries, which appear in September and take many months to ripen.  Mistletoe berries ripen in springtime and the berries will persist on the trees until May.  Mistletoe is such a beautiful plant.  I love to see balls of mistletoe high up in the branches of trees.

Mistletoe (Viscum album) is a hemi-parasitic epiphyte that takes water and nutrients from its host tree but also generates supplementary energy itself, through photosynthesis.  Mistletoe’s host plants are broadleaved trees, including Apple (Malus domestica) or crab apples (Malus), hawthorns (Crataegus), poplars (Populus), and limes (Tilia).  Trees from the Rosaceae family all make ideal candidates as host trees for mistletoe growing.

Mistle Thrushes, Blackcaps, Redwings, and Fieldfares, all delight in feasting upon Mistletoe berries; the birds spread the seed in their droppings.  Mistletoe seeds are coated in a substance that’s naturally sticky and as a result, Mistletoe seeds often get caught on birds’ bills; Mistle Thrushes can often be seen wiping their beaks on branches, trying to free the clingy mistletoe seeds from their bills.  Mistletoe berries are coated in a substance called viscin.  This is the ingredient that adheres Mistletoe seeds to the branches and is so adhesive that it encourages birds to remove the seed in such a way that propagates the plant and enables Mistletoe plants to spread to new host trees some distance away from their mother plant.

If you want to grow your own Mistletoe.  Choose a suitable, mature tree that’s at least fifteen years old; select a tree that’s in good health and will be strong enough to support itself and the needs of the mistletoe now and in the years ahead.

Only use plump and fleshy Mistletoe berries.  Unripe or shrivelled Mistletoe berries will be unlikely to germinate.  Examine the branches, looking for natural crevices in the bark, then squish the mistletoe berries into any cracks you find.  Mistletoe thrives in bright sunshine, so focus on pressing the berries into areas of bark that directly face the sun.

Alternatively, take a sharp knife and make a shallow ‘T’ cut on a sturdy branch.  Gently open a small section of bark and insert a mistletoe berry.  Please don’t make a deep cut, the aim is to push the seed just underneath the outer bark, where the seed can make direct contact with the tree’s cambium layer.  Mistletoe has a low germination rate, therefore sow multiple seeds for a greater chance of success.

Mistletoe berries are living things.  To remain viable, the berries need daylight to photosynthesise.  It’s vital to keep mistletoe berries in a bright location and sow the seeds as soon as possible.  Berries stored in the dark will die.

The Mistletoe Marble Moth (Celypha woodiana) feeds on the foliage of Viscum album; forming mines inside Mistletoe leaves.  The adult moth emerges from its cocoon in July and is on the wing in July and August.  Eggs are laid on Mistletoe plants’ foliage in late summer and the tiny caterpillars overwinter inside the leaves.  As spring arrives, the caterpillar’s appetite increases and the insects continue to feed on the cells inside the plant’s leaves.  The affected foliage blisters and swells up in reaction to damage the caterpillar has caused and then the fully developed caterpillar emerges to spin a cocoon and prepare for metamorphosis.   Mistletoe Marble Moths resemble bird droppings, which gives these moths an effective camouflage and helps Mistletoe Marble Moths evade predators.

Mistletoe is often found growing on apple trees.  Over the past 50 years or more, many of the UK’s orchards have now been lost and the fruit tree’s Mistletoe plants were lost with them.  Thankfully, Mistletoe has a range of plants that make suitable hosts and the plants can be found all around the UK.  As it often grows so high up in the branches of trees, Mistletoe can hide in plain sight and is often only spotted when the leaves have fallen in December.  Plants are fairly slow-growing and it might take five years for a Mistletoe seedling to grow, develop and mature to produce its own berries.

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