The Mystery of Mistletoe - Indiana Yard and Garden - Purdue Consumer Horticulture

The Mystery of Mistletoe

Most folks think of mistletoe as an excuse for smooching around the holiday, and today, there probably aren’t too many people who have actually seen anything but plastic mistletoe!

But, in fact, there is a real plant that is the true mistletoe. Well, actually, several types of mistletoe exist, 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.

American Mistletoe, Phoradendron sp., can be found hanging around 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.

Though these plants do have chlorophyll, as parasites they meet their nutritional needs by tapping into the flow of water and minerals of other plants, particularly trees, such as apple, hawthorn, linden and oak. The seeds actually germinate on the host plant and tap in immediately.

Though it may be great fun to catch the object of your affection under the mistletoe, both the berries and foliage can cause severe digestive upset if eaten and in rare instances may be fatal. Now that could explain why plastic mistletoe has become so popular!


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