Jonathan's Mistletoe Diary

December 4, 2015

Too much mistletoe?

Filed under: Current Affairs,Gardening,Mistletoe,Orchard,Science,social history — Jonathan Briggs @ 7:41 pm

Can you have too much mistletoe? I don’t mean hanging in the hallway – where garlands of the stuff might be needed if you’ve a high-maintenance kisser in the house. I mean in the tree, where it grows as a parasite. Can there be too much there?

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A overly mistletoe-laden apple tree in October this year – no leaves, no apples, and the mistletoe turning brown. This tree had been struggling for a few years, but the mistletoe was mostly too high to harvest or manage, so little could be done. I’m not surprised it has finally succumbed – but it is very sad, as it was the best tree in the orchard.

The answer of course (as I’ve said many times before in this blog) is that yes, a tree can have too much mistletoe, and if left unchecked both tree and mistletoe will die. Sounds bad, but actually it’s good, as it gives an incentive to the tree-owner to cut some each year, and hang it up for Christmas! Keeping up the tradition of kissing under mistletoe helps keep both mistletoe and host happy – a win-win situation all round. Happy tree, happy mistletoe, happy kissing. What could possibly go wrong?

Sadly, quite a lot, as many of the old apple orchard trees that have a lot of mistletoe in them are getting more neglected, so they have more mistletoe, and they die more quickly. What we need, in this situation, is an incentive to cut more mistletoe…

The best incentive might be, perversely, a really good year for mistletoe – i.e. a year when there are loadsa big pearly-white berries, as there is a better market for it when it’s really attractive, so more incentive to harvest it for sale. And this season it is looking like a really good year – so we might see more reaching the shops this season, which would mean better mistletoe management too.

More being cut isn’t always the answer though, as mistletoe does have separate male and female plants. That means that 50% of mistletoe plants won’t have any berries – because they’re boy mistletoe, and only girl mistletoe has berries…

And that means, if you’re in an apple orchard cutting mistletoe for market, that you should not ignore the berry-less growths, even though they have no commercial value (no-one wants to buy mistletoe with no berries). For the sake of the tree, and the mistletoe, you should cut back the berry-less growths too, even if it does double the workload. Otherwise, not only will the male plants grow unchecked, but next year the proportion of berried plants will be fewer, and that proportion will get progressively fewer every year you fail to cut the male too. Until one year you give up, saying to yourself there’s no decent mistletoe in this orchard any more (and it used to be so good…)

So mistletoe harvesters, remember to cut the male plants too, you really do have to be cruel to be kind to it, and if you do cut both sexes equally you’ll have your mistletoe, and your tree, indefinitely.

Don’t believe me? Want to find out how to do it? Why not go on one of the Three Counties Traditional Orchard Project (TCTOP)’s Mistletoe Training Days? The next one is very soon, on 11th December, and is being hosted by the TCTOP Partner Colwall Orchard Group – details are available at colwallorchardgroup.org/events/index.html

If you miss that one there will be others, including one hosted by TCTOP Partner Gloucestershire Orchard Trust (and run by me) in February 2016. Date to be announced soon.

And, if you are an orchard owner with mistletoe, why not take part in Mistletoe Matters’ survey on mistletoe management in orchards – you’ll find the details of this and other surveys at surveys.mistletoe.org.uk – I’ll be saying more about that particular project in another blog entry soon…

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And, coming soon, from Mistletoe Diary, the opposite problem:

Too little mistletoe?

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More Mistletoe Matters – links to mistletoey things to read, buy or do

Grow-Your-Own Mistletoe – kits and gift cards from the English Mistletoe Shop
A Little Book About Mistletoe – printed and Kindle versions
Mistletoe Matters Consultancy – all about mistletoe in Britain
The Mistletoe Pages – even more about mistletoe
Mistletoe Surveys – seeking your input…
Mistletoe Matters on Facebook
Mistletoe Matters on Twitter

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