All about mistletoe: NC’s most romantic parasite

There’s more to this native evergreen shrub than just holiday decor.

A close look at mistletoe

This local mistletoe at the WNC Farmers Market will brighten up your holiday decor.

Photo by AVLtoday

’Tis the season for mistletoe. Renowned for its lovely evergreen hue and history of cultivating kisses, there’s more to this seasonal shrub than just holiday decor.

Dubbed “North Carolina’s most romantic parasite,” mistletoe is vitally important to a wide variety of critters, including some birds, butterflies, and insects.

Here are some fast facts about mighty mistletoe:

  • Mistletoe is native from the mid-Atlantic to Florida and into the Midwest, and is a common plant throughout North Carolina. While it’s more rare in the mountains, it also grows here.
  • The mistletoe species most commonly associated with the Christmas season is Phoradendron serotium.
  • The custom of decorating with mistletoe goes back to the Druids; the plant was thought to possess mystical powers which bring peace and good luck to the household and wards off evil spirits.
  • Mistletoe establishes itself in tree tops, thanks to its sticky seeds and foraging birds that excrete or wipe off the seeds on tree branches.
  • Dark green, bushy mistletoe is easiest to spot in the winter, when it stands out atop the branches of dull-colored, leafless tree trunks.
  • Mistletoe is semi-parasitic. Rather than producing roots in the ground, mistletoe sends out root-like structures into tree branches and steals water and nutrients from its host.
  • Its semi-parasitic nature caused ancient Cherokees to refer to mistletoe as uda’li, which loosely means ‘it is married.’
  • The small evergreen shrub is poisonous for people, but provides essential food, cover, and nesting sites for a number of animals.
  • Despite its poisonous leaves and berries, mistletoe has been used homeopathically to treat ailments including headaches, seizures, and arthritis.

Want to get your hands on some local mistletoe? I got a lovely sprig from North Star Tree Farms at the WNC Farmers Market.

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