Mistletoe isn’t romantic when it’s in your trees — it’s a parasite

Texas A&M Forest Service warns about harmful effects of mistletoe infestation

SAN ANTONIO – Next time you ask someone to meet you under the mistletoe, it may be an arborist to get rid of it. That is, if you’ve got the plant growing in your trees.

Not to dampen the holiday spirit, but the Texas A&M Forest Service is warning people that the often romanticized plant is actually a parasite.

“While socially it may bring good cheer, biologically it can be quite damaging to trees,” the service posted on Facebook.

There are more than 30 species of mistletoe in North America and more than 1,300 species of Mistletoe across the world, according to the forest service.

And it’s spread easily by birds that carry the sticky seeds to new hosts.

When the plant germinates, its roots penetrate the tree and take water and nutrients from the tree. It also uses photosynthesis to produce energy — so technically it’s considered semiparasitic or hemiparasite.

The Texas A&M Forest Service says in Texas, mistletoe affects oak, sugarberry, elm and several species of pine and says any tress that are infested with mistletoe should be treated by pruning, though it can be hard to eradicate.

“If extensive pruning is needed, a Certified Arborist should be contacted to assess the tree and the extent of infestation,” the service advised.

The good news is, it’s not considered a serious tree pest, so you probably won’t have to kiss your tree goodbye.

Not to pile on the plant, but it’s also poisonous, so if you do have it in your trees, or in your home over the holidays, make sure that no humans or pets put it in their mouths.

But before you give mistletoe the kiss-off, it’s only fair to mention that it does have some redeeming qualities. Many animals do eat it and they also use it to make nests. According to the National Wildlife Federation, three kinds of butterflies in the U.S. depend on mistletoe for survival including the great purple hairstreak, the thicket hairstreak and the Johnson’s hairstreak.

According to cancer.gov, the plant also has some medicinal uses in humans. Extracts from the plant have been “used for hundreds of years to treat medical conditions such as epilepsy, hypertension, headaches, menopausal symptoms, infertility, arthritis, and rheumatism.”

It’s also been shown in studies to be effective as adjuvant therapy in patients with cancer. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved the use of mistletoe as a treatment for cancer or any other medical condition.

Mistletoe is commonly associated with Christmas cheer and sneaking a kiss beneath a bough in a doorway on a cold winter...

Posted by Texas A&M Forest Service on Tuesday, December 7, 2021

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Julie Moreno has worked in local television news for more than 20 years. She came to KSAT as a news producer in 2000. After producing thousands of newscasts, she transitioned to the digital team in 2015. She writes on a wide variety of topics from breaking news to trending stories and manages KSAT’s daily digital content strategy.