The Story on Mistletoe

Home Grown  by Keith Reed
Perhaps it’s just me, but mistletoe seems to have fallen out of favor a bit as a holiday plant the last several years. I’m not sure why that is but it still has an interesting story that is worth telling. The fact that this Oklahoma native is present (and seemingly on the increase) in our area gives even more reason to talk about it.

From the holiday decoration point of view, there are several folk tales to choose from, so we’ll pick just one. Mistletoe has been used for centuries in various pagan and religious rituals as a symbol of love, peace, and goodwill. It is thought that “kissing under the mistletoe” first became popular as a Christmas tradition in North America in the 1880’s. This act was said to increase the chances of one’s chances of marriage in the upcoming year.

It strikes me as a bit odd that a plant with this association would be poisonous, but it is indeed poisonous to varying degrees depending on the species. Live mistletoe should not be used as a decoration for this reason, especially if children or pets will be close by.

While mistletoe is considered a parasite, the term “partial parasite” would actually be more appropriate. The plant is capable of producing its own food through photosynthesis but it also relies on the host plant for water and nutrients. Mistletoe spreads throughout trees by bird droppings. The sticky seed, with its readily available fertilizer source, easily germinates and takes “root” in the tree itself.

While this plant does use water and nutrients from the host plant and thus, would theoretically weaken it, in reality it is not a problem for trees in our area. If for some reason you wish to eliminate mistletoe from your trees, cutting it out is the best way to do it.

For more information on this or any other horticultural topic, you can contact Keith Reed, the Horticulturist in the Payne County Extension office. Keith can be reached via email at
keith.reed@okstate.edu, phone at 405-747-8320, or in person at the Payne County Extension office, located at 315 W. 6th in Stillwater.

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