Mistletoe conjures thoughts of Christmas and Christmas traditions, ancient folklore and legends, Druidic and pagan traditions, and romance. With focus year after year on mistletoe as an old holiday tradition and symbol, it may be surprising to learn that mistletoe occurs commonly in California.
Broadleaf mistletoe (Phoradendron leucarpum ssp. macrophyllum or Phoradendron macrophyllum) is the most widespread species in California. It grows on a wide range of host trees in both urban and wildland areas, including some fruit and nut trees, alder, ash, birch, black walnut, buckeye, cottonwood, locust, maple, and sycamore, among others.
Other species of mistletoe including European Mistletoe (Viscum album) also occur in California. Phoradendron villosum occurs in California and infests only oaks.
If you’re caught under the mistletoe with someone whose kiss you prefer to avoid, trying saying “Do you realize we’re under a stem hemiparasite?” That should do nicely to dispel the romantic mood under most circumstances. If extra firepower is needed, say enthusiastically “I won’t kiss you under an obligate stem hemiparasite!” At GardenZeus we recommend practicing this in advance for a smooth and proficient delivery should you find yourself under mistletoe and in romantic duress.
“Obligate stem hemiparasite” is technical language to describe a species that requires a host to reproduce (obligate), that grows on the branches or stems of its host (stem), and that produces most or all of its energy and food through its own photosynthesis but obtains water and nutrients from a host (hemiparasite).
But be warned: for the right lonely horticulturist or botanist, this super-secret botanical phrase might backfire.
Before condemning or despising mistletoe for parasitism, it’s worth remembering that comparatively few plants but all animals including all humans depend on consuming other life for survival. Mistletoe has been revered throughout history and prehistory. It usually takes numerous mistletoe plants over a long period of time to kill a tree. By comparison, how many plants and trees does a single human use or consume in a lifetime?
Happy holidays from GardenZeus, and best of luck with your holiday adventures under the mistletoe.
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