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


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2 Comments »

  1. Fascinating as ever Jonathan. I was browsing through some old copies of the RHS Garden magazine given to me by a friend and noticed an exceptionally and unusually informative article in the December 2012 issue. Sure enough when I turned back the page it was written by you!
    I recently blogged about mistletoe and was interested that some readers wondered about potential symbiotic elements between host and parasite and speculated wether any sugars might pass back to the host. I understand the answer is no.
    I also recently holidayed in Costa Rica and noticed many woody parasites up in the trees. I am not sure about the actual definition of mistletoe and wondered if any woody parasite growing up in the trees – excluding obvious epiphytes- and with no roots in the ground would all be one of the many species of mistletoe
    Roger

    Comment by Roger Brook — March 30, 2014 @ 10:18 am | Reply

  2. […] (see Mistletoe Diary entry here for more info). And then there’s wind-blow of course (eg see the Mistletoe Diary entry below this one for examples). So some mistletoe good, loadsa mistletoe […]

    Pingback by Mistletoe problems in orchards – getting worse? | Jonathan's Mistletoe Diary — May 12, 2014 @ 11:23 am | Reply


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