Q: I purchased some land filled with trees, but I noticed many of them have mistletoe in the branches. What can you tell me about mistletoe?
A: Mistletoe is not like typical plants, which obtain support, water and nutrients from the soil in which they grow. Mistletoe is a parasite which lives in the tops and branches of trees. Look for round green branches in treetops – mistletoe is often found in mature laurel or water oaks and other hardwood trees. The “roots” of mistletoe penetrate the tree’s bark and enter the wood of a tree. After established, mistletoe grows very quickly and can live for about ten years. Eventually the host tree is weakened and can decline in health; branches become weakened and often die. Pruning mistletoe branches from mature trees may reduce this drain on the host oak. Be sure to make the pruning cut at least six inches below the point of attachment.
Mistletoe has been used as a Yuletide decoration for centuries. The soft leaves of this woody plant, with its dark green, oval shapes and occasional white berries, symbolize peace and love. Many customs and beliefs have carried over to its use at Christmas time – most notably to encourage passion by way of kissing. Hanging up a branch with white berries was a subtle challenge to kiss the unsuspecting (or suspecting) individual who stood beneath it. Use this plant carefully as a holiday decoration – it is poisonous if eaten. In homes with curious pets or young children a plastic or fabric replica may be a safer way to enjoy Mistletoe at Christmas.