We all know mistletoe is a powerful magical plant that causes a kiss, to be bestowed, on anyone who passes below it. Mistletoe grows throughout the United States from southern Florida to northern Michigan and all the way to the west coast.
Mistletoe is a small plant that thrives high in the tops of deciduous trees as a semi-parasite. Deciduous means trees which that lose their leaves in winter. Mistletoe requires lots of sunlight to thrive.
North American mistletoe is classified as a woody shrub, and has green, oval-shaped leaves 3 to 4 inches long. The flowers are small, white to greenish white. Once pollinated, the flowers mature into the traditional berries you may think of when you think of mistletoe
Berries of the North American mistletoe can be red, orange, yellow and white. Many species of the North American Mistletoe Are poisonous to humans, domestic and farm animals, but birds love them. In the fall, you may find many species of birds feasting on mistletoe berries. They use their beaks to extract the seeds from the berry which is filled with a sticky juice, often pausing to wipe their beaks on the host tree.
In North America some species of mistletoe grow only on one type of tree. Mistletoe spreads through bird droppings with the birds Consuming the berries and leaving the seeds behind in their waste. In addition, when birds retrieve the seed from the mistletoe they get a considerable amount of sticky juice on their beaks. Often they fly to other trees to rub their beaks on branches to remove seeds stuck to their beaks.
Some of the transported seeds of this semi-parasite will eventually send out roots that tap into the host tree. Mistletoe spreads and grows relatively slowly and is rarely considered an immediate threat to tree health. If there is plenty of sunlight, the plants will sprout, grow and eventually mature into prized Christmas decorations. Mistletoe seeds That Settle on lower shaded branches usually don’t survive due to the lack of light.
Growing Mistletoe at Home!
First, find a tree (oak, hickory, poplar or maple are good choices) with a low, healthy limb that is least as big as your thumb in diameter. Make sure the limb gets plenty of sunlight. Next, make a small shallow, angled cut into the bark and squeeze the seed out of a mistletoe berry into the cut. The sticky juice from the berry will help hold the seed in the cut. You can repeat this procedure several times on a single limb giving each seed a few inches of free space.
Even if all the conditions are favorable for growth, it will take at least a year before any leaves start to form. The only care that the seeds require to become established is to make sure the young sprouts get plenty of sun.
In a few Christmases you should be ready to pick your very own homegrown mistletoe and harvest the kisses that are sure to follow!