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Mistletoe Species and Host Plants

Mistletoe has quite a few common names in England. These include mislin-bush, kiss-and-go, misle, churchman’s greeting, and mosslin.

The Latin name for the American genus is from the Greek, and means thief and tree. The English common name comes from the Anglo-Saxon words for dung and twig, dung and tan. This has also been called Druid’s herb. One American species has been the state flower for Oklahoma since 1893.


Botany of Mistletoe

The berries and leaves of mistletoe are very conspicuous in the winter after the leaves on the deciduous trees have fallen. This has been called golden bough because of the color of the stems and fruit.

The plants grow on the upper part of the tree where they can receive enough sunlight. This is required since they can photosynthesize to some degree even though they are partially parasitic. The American species does obtain some minerals and water from its host plant. However, it doesn’t kill the host plant. On the other hand, the European species, Viscum album, is capable of killing its host. The mass of growth that the tree develops as a result of the mistletoe is called a ‘witch’s broom.’


Host Plants of Mistletoe

The host plant can vary widely depending on the species of mistletoe. The American species is found on lots of different host plants but rarely occur on oaks. One preferred host in the West is juniper. This can also occur on pines and spruce. European mistletoe prefers deciduous trees.

Viscum is often found on apple trees. However, it also occurs on oak, maple, poplar, lime, and hawthorn. The mistletoe from the oaks was special to the Druids. Other host plants for Viscum include mulberry, holly, zelkova, red buckeye, locust, pear, and birch.


Origins and Species of Mistletoe

Apparently mistletoe wasn’t introduced to Ireland until the late 1700s. So it couldn’t have been the European species that Pliny described being harvested by Celtic Druid priests. It is believed that Pliny was writing about Loranthus europaeus, another species that grows on chestnuts, limes, and oaks. According to an article by Charles Elliott, published in Horticulture magazine, the English often consider the French mistletoe to be inferior to the English one.

There are around 200 species of Phoradendron in the New World. They are found mostly in all states of the continental U.S. except for the Dakotas

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