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Saturday - January 24, 2009

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Invasive Plants
Title: Removal, spread of native mistletoe
Answered by: Barbara Medford


My neighbor has a lot of mistletoe growing in a tree in her front yard. I have a tree in my yard that has mistletoe in it. Each winter I have the plant removed so birds won't spread it around. Do you recommend removing it, even though it will grow back? Will the mistletoe in her yard spread to other neighbor's trees? Thank you.


We wish this were a plant we could dismiss because it is non-native; unfortunately, we cannot. Both Phoradendron leucarpum (oak mistletoe) and Phoradendron tomentosum (Christmas mistletoe) are native to Texas and widespread. The scientific name "phoradendron" is from the Greek for "thief of the tree." They are referred to as hemi-parasitic, not true parasites, because they do have green leaves and can perform photosynthesis. They prefer to let the tree do all the work of drawing up moisture and nutrients and the mistletoe just slurps it up. From the pictures on our webpage on Phoradendron tomentosum (Christmas mistletoe), we are assuming that is the one we see most often in trees in Texas. 

From the University of California website Integrated Pest Management-Mistletoe we extracted this quotation on how the mistletoe is most likely to spread:

"The berries of the female plant are small, sticky, and whitish; they are very attractive to birds such as cedar waxwings, robins, and others. The birds feed on and digest the pulp of the berries, excreting the living seeds that stick tightly to any branch on which they land. In most cases, the initial infestation occurs on larger or older trees because birds prefer to perch in the tops of taller trees. A heavy buildup of mistletoe often occurs within an infested tree because birds are attracted to the berries, and may spend a good deal of time feeding on them. In addition, seeds may fall from mistletoe plants in the upper part of the tree, creating new infestations on the lower branches. The rapidity with which mistletoe spreads is directly related to the proximity and severity of established infestations, and newly planted trees can be quickly infested if they are growing near old, heavily infested trees."

This site is directed mainly toward species of Phoradendron that grow in California, but the information is useful on all the species. We suggest you read all the information on that site for further recommendations on control and preventing the spread of mistletoe. The seeds are considered poisonous to human beings, although birds eat them happily and get along fine, but it would be a good idea not to use it as a Christmas decoration if it will come in contact with children or pets. 

Phoradendron leucarpum

Phoradendron leucarpum

Phoradendron tomentosum

Phoradendron tomentosum



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