Thursday, December 2, 2010

Mistletoe is a great native plant

by Kendall Kroesen

On November 30, 2010 the Arizona Daily Star published an article advocating the removal of desert mistletoe (Phoradendron californicum) from Sonoran Desert trees. The article repeated the myth that mistletoe is dangerous to trees that it should be removed when ever possible.

Desert mistletoe

Instead, it is well established that both our desert mistletoe and our trees are native species that have coexisted for a very long time, probably millenia. Mistletoe is a partial parasite that takes some nutrients from trees, but also contain chlorophyll and creates its own energy. If mistletoe were a parasite that quickly killed their host trees, it would kill itself--something not to its advantage.

Trees that are dying and that contain mistletoe are probably dying from a combination of factors, such as old age, disease, and drought--not just from the mistletoe. Mark Dimmitt, on page 260 of A Natural History of the Sonoran Desert, as well as at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum website, notes the value of mistletoe to wildlife and that it is rare for mistletoe to kill trees.

Mistletoe is indeed a native plant that is very important for wildlife. Birds and other animals eat the berries. Phainopeplas are heavily dependent on mistletoe berries in the Tucson area. (For more on the value of desert mistletoe, see the January-February 2010 issue of the Vermilion Flycatcher, pages 16-17).

Please do not heed calls to remove mistletoe from trees. Desert mistletoe is a native plant, as is the tree in which it is growing. Who are we to choose which lives and which dies? Besides, the effectiveness of removing mistletoe is minimal since you cannot kill it unless you cut off the branch of the tree it is growing on. The mistletoe will grow back from root-like filiments that are inside the tree branch.

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