A Natural History of Mistletoe – Scientific American Blog Post

A Natural History of Mistletoe – Scientific American Blog Post

Mistletoe is frequently spotted hanging above lovers’ heads in terrible holiday specials–but only during one month of the year. That makes it easy to forget that more than 1,300 species hang in forests year-round, parasitizing thousands of tree species around the world. Or, rather, hemiparasitizing, which means the plant is partially self-sufficient: it has its own leaves to collect sunlight to convert into energy, but feeds off of a host tree for water and nutrients.

Semantics aside, mistletoe has been long-considered the epitome of the word “parasite:” a blood-sucking bush that plugs into trunks and branches, strangling and killing trees around the world. This airborne parasitism is so successful that mistletoes are thought to have evolved it five separate times on their own.

But the purely negative opinion is starting to change. Mistletoe may parasitize trees, but it also provides valuable services to forest animals. Its flower nectar and berries are a food source for birds, insects (such as moths, beetles, bees and flies), and mammals. Its greenery is a resource-rich patch used as shelter and, for some birds, a sweet nesting spot.

Read more: A Natural History of Mistletoe – Scientific American blog Culturing Science

Photo: Farrukh (Swamibu)