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Kentucky Color: Mistletoe on Black Cherry
It's beautiful, and is associated with Christmas and romance, but it comes at a cost to its host, which suffers stress from even a little presence of the parasitic guest.
For next earlier Kentucky Color, see Kentucky Color: Northern Mockingbird is Cock of the Walk
By Billy Joe Fudge
Retired District Forester, Kentucky Division of Forestry
We talked recently about Lichens living on the bark of trees while not being parasitic. However, Mistletoe is a parasite. It actually is not a pure parasite in the sense that it does make a little of its own food even if it does get its water and nutrients from the host tree.
Even a little Mistletoe will stress its host, a moderate infestation will slow the host tree's growth, and a heavy infestation can actually kill the host tree.
Many varieties of Mistletoe are poison but research is ongoing concerning its medicinal properties.
About every culture has some kind of wild-haired story about Mistletoe possessing magical powers. In this country for instance when a couple is under Mistletoe they are obligated to share a kiss. I suppose one should be discerning of the company they keep when in the vicinity of this mystical plant.
The seed is spread by birds and animals. When the seed is chewed it secretes a sticky substance which will glue it to the twigs and limbs of potential host trees until the weather warms enough for germination. It is also spread through the feces of birds and animals.
In my experience Mistletoe's favorite host trees are Black Walnut and the Elms, but can be found on just about any species. The large Black Cherry Tree (in the accompanying photo) just off Tutt Steet only has this one plant growing on it, at present.
This story was posted on 2010-03-07 03:33:06
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