Mistletoe: More than Just a Decoration

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When people think of mistletoe, they may picture the little plant that hangs above kissing couples around the holidays. However, mistletoe can be dangerous if found on a crop. Earlier this year, Andrew Koeser, assistant professor at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Gulf Coast Research and Education Center, gave recommendations on how to handle a mistletoe infestation on trees.

According to Koeser, mistletoe is a parasitic plant that typically grows on the branches of the tree. Although it is most well-known for appearing in the winter months, mistletoe can grow year-round. The mistletoe will not kill the tree, but it can steal nutrients and water from the crop. If the mistletoe robs the tree of its nutrients, it will reduce the yield on the infested branches.

Koeser said the best thing to do to manage mistletoe is prune it off. If the mistletoe is on a secondary branch, it can simply be pruned back to the main trunk. However, if the mistletoe is on the main trunk, Koeser recommended cutting back a foot or so. Cutting that far back ensures the destruction of haustorium, which is the structure that hooks on to the cells of the host plant and sucks the nutrients out. “Make sure you get those (haustorium) out so there’s no reinfestation,” Koeser said.

Koeser advised growers to look around the different trees on their property if mistletoe is detected. Mistletoe is attracted to oak trees. If detected in an oak tree on the property, that could be the source of the mistletoe. Koeser recommended destroying those infested trees as well.

Mistletoe is a danger to several varieties of trees, but it can also be dangerous for humans and animals if ingested. If mistletoe is detected, or if it is being used as a holiday decoration, remember to keep it away from children and pets.

About the Author

Abbey Taylor

Multimedia journalist/assistant editor of VSCNews magazine

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