by Alice Marty
What do you know about mistletoe the plant? Unless you have it in your yard, you probably don’t know a lot.
Aside from the Christmas decorations, Eastern mistletoe (Phoradendron serotinum) is a parasitic plant. Technically it is a hemiparasite. A hemiparasitic plant can live with or without a host plant.
Mistletoe seeds are very sticky. Birds eating the seeds or getting them stuck on their feet or beak spread the seeds. If they get stuck on a tree branch, they will send out haustoria roots. These roots are strong enough to break through the tree bark and attach themselves to the tree. It then begins taking nutrients and water from its host plant. Mistletoe is capable of photosynthesis but only if it does not have a host. It can be grown in a pot.
Many birds nest directly in mistletoe, and according to National Wildlife Federation, 43% of Spotted Owl nests in a single forest were associated with mistletoe. 64% of Cooper’s Hawk nests in northeastern Oregon were in mistletoe. Squirrels sometimes nest in mistletoe also. Three species of butterfly depend on mistletoe, as it is the only food their caterpillars will eat.
No part of the plant is edible and is considered poisonous to children and pets.