Controlling Mistletoe

April 2 , 2005

Part II mistletoe

Mechanical control

The most effective way to control mistletoe and prevent its spread is to prune out infected branches as soon as the parasite appears. Using thinning-type pruning cuts, remove infected branches at their point of origin or back to large lateral branches. Infected branches need to be cut at least one foot below the point of mistletoe attachment in order to completely remove embedded haustoria. Done properly, limb removal for mistletoe control can maintain or even improve tree structure. Severe heading is often used to remove heavy tree infestations; however, such pruning weaken a tree’s structure, and destroys its natural form. In some cases it is best to remove severely infested trees entirely because they are usually a source of mistletoe seed.

Mistletoe infecting a major branch or the trunk where it cannot be pruned may be controlled by cutting off the mistletoe flush with the limb or trunk. Then wrap the area with a few layer of wide, black polyethylene to exclude light. Use twine or tape to secure the plastic to the limb, but do not wrap it too tightly or the branch may be damaged. In some tree species callus tissue will form under the plastic, further weakening the limb. Broadleaf mistletoe requires light and will die within a couple of years without it. It may be necessary to repeat this treatment, especially if the wrapping becomes detached or if the mistletoe does not die.

Cutting the mistletoe out of an infested tree each winter, even without wrapping, is better than doing nothing at all. Even though the parasite will grow back, spread is reduced because broadleaf mistletoe mist be several years old before it can bloom and produce seed.
Long before, “ kissing under the mistletoe,” became a popular superstition many myths already surrounded this mysterious fungus. To name a few.

When we hear the word mistletoe, most of us tend to think, not of parasites, but of Christmas, a number of interesting myths have developed about this unusual fungus over the years.
The Druids thought that mistletoe was sacred because it grew without roots in the ground. Because of this, they assumed that it must have been planted by the gods.

European farmer claimed milk didn’t sour as quickly around mistletoe and that butter churned more easily. Thus, every farm had sprigs of mistletoe hanging in their cattle sheds.

Several legends state that a kiss under the mistletoe, exchanged by a couple in love, is a promise to marry.

One custom allows a boy to kiss a girl under the mistletoe as long as he picks one berry each time he kisses her. When the berries were gone, the kissing must end.

However, the custom of kissing under the mistletoe came to be, it seems to be a very popular one that will probably be around for some time to come.

A mistletoe plant usually lives for eight to ten years. The longer the mistletoe is attached, the more the host tree weaken and declines in health.