Jonathan's Mistletoe Diary

February 17, 2014

Fallen mistletoe – good enough to eat!

Filed under: Biodiversity,Blogroll,Mistle Thrush,Mistletoe,Orchard,Science — Jonathan Briggs @ 5:23 pm
Mistletoe-laden Apple Tree downed in recent storms

Mistletoe-laden apple tree downed in recent storms

Last week’s storms brought down yet more mistletoe-laden trees in our local orchards, and I went to look at a few in yesterday’s sunshine. None of the casualties were a surprise – they were all old, neglected apple trees, with far too much mistletoe on them for long-term survival. The storms have (probably) just accelerated some already inevitable deaths.

Another mistletoe-laden Apple Tree damaged in recent storms

Another mistletoe-laden apple tree damaged in recent storms

Nevertheless it is always upsetting to see these trees down, especially in the location pictured here, where most of the orchard is already gone and it can only be a few years now until they’ve all gone. There’s no orchard replanting scheme here, this is a farm outside the (sometimes unreal) world of conservation projects, and it is struggling to survive, the tenant farmer has been given notice to leave and, in the long-term, housing seems the most likely fate for the site.

I’m never sure what the pre-dominant emotion should be – to be sad at the inevitable passing of these old orchards or to be glad to have known them before they went.

Mistletoe Haustorium - the host-parasite interface

Mistletoe Haustorium – the host-parasite interface

But whether sad or glad, a fallen mistletoe-laden tree is a wonderful opportunity to see mistletoe from a new perspective, and I did quite enjoy my exploration among the branches yesterday. The haustorial connections – where the mistletoe distorts the host branch – could be seen at close quarters, the branching patterns properly examined, and rough aging estimated for each clump.

Female flowers, just beginning to open. Those 4 tiny green petals on each is echosed on the mature berry, as the 4 concentric brown scars on each.

Female flowers, just beginning to open. Those 4 tiny green petals on each are echoed on the mature berry, as the 4 concentric brown scars on each. Click to enlarge it if you can’t see it this small.

The mistletoe flowers are just beginning to open too – though not on the mistletoe on fallen trees, their buds remain shut and that mistletoe is dying. But on the live mistletoe on upright trees the female and male flowers were just beginning to crack open, with a hint of nectar showing in some. No pollinating insects yet though – I think the local bees need more than a single day of sunshine to be persuaded out after the weather of the last 2 months!

A dried mistle thrush dropping - comprising a string of mistletoe seeds held together in semi-digested berry mucilage.

A dried Mistle Thrush dropping – comprising a string of mistletoe seeds held together in semi-digested berry mucilage.

Plenty of evidence of birds though – with the usual but always fascinating strings of mistletoe seeds hanging here and there – which are a sure sign of mistle thrush digestive activity.

The lowest-lying mistletoe, unusually accessible to grazing mammals, has all been neatly trimmed by hungry deer.

The lowest-lying mistletoe, unusually accessible to grazing mammals, has all been neatly trimmed by hungry deer.

And evidence of larger animals too, with all the mistletoe leaves grazed off the lowest growths on the fallen trees.

This is despite mistletoe’s modern reputation as poisonous. In truth it is highly prized by grazing animals – when they can reach it – and has a long tradition, in old agricultural practices, as a winter feed. In this location the culprits were probably deer, though sheep and cattle will do exactly the same when they can.
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Commercial break – want to grow mistletoe?

EMShopVisit The English Mistletoe Shop for Grow-Kits, Grow-Kit Gift Cards, and mistletoe books etc


February 10, 2014

Mistletoe Berries or Rugby Balls?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jonathan Briggs @ 1:34 pm
Fused mistletoe berries

Fused mistletoe berries

The new mistletoe planting season is here, and we’ve been out harvesting berries for planting projects, grow-kits and just to see how they’re looking this season. Effects of the recent wind and rain are obvious in many of the older mistletoe-laden orchards, with several trees down, complete with mistletoe. Will post some pics of those in due course…

Today I just wanted to post some pictures of aberrant berries. Mistletoe normally has such perfectly-formed spherical berries, each with a single seed, but sometimes the berries fuse in growth, creating monster berries, distorted laterally, and containing several seeds.

Fused mistletoe berries from another angle

Fused mistletoe berries from another angle

One of the plants I was looking at at the weekend had lots of these, perhaps indicating some physiological problem in ovary development, or maybe even genetic disposition, that causes merging (or perhaps splitting, it could happen both ways).

Despite the fusing you can still spot how many berries this should be – as the floral structure leaves a scar on the top of each berry. The big rugby-ball berries in these pictures have 3 scars – so they are three berries in one.

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Commercial break – want to grow mistletoe?

EMShopGive the plant that grows kisses for Valentine’s Day!

Visit The English Mistletoe Shop for Grow-Kits, Grow-Kit Gift Cards, and mistletoe books etc


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