As temperatures drop and leaves fall, you may notice tufts of green which remain in the crowns of some trees. It is likely that these green tufts are not actually part of the tree at all, but are a completely different plant, mistletoe. Birds feed on the berries produced by the plant, and spread the seeds to other trees. Many tree species are hosts for mistletoe, but it is especially common in hackberries and cedar elms, here in Central Texas.
The tradition of kissing under mistletoe is thought to have begun with the ancient Greeks. Since mistletoe remains green year-round, it has long been associated with fertility. Many cultures have myths related to this, and have adopted rituals including mistletoe for weddings and holiday celebrations.
As romantic as this may seem, mistletoe has a bit of a dark side. It is a parasite, which means that it lives off of the resources of a host, in this case trees. It absorbs water and nutrients from tree branches on which it is rooted. In addition to robing its host of resources, it weakens the wood in the areas where it has taken root, which can lead to broken branches. Heavy infestations of mistletoe can even kill a tree. For this reason, it is a good idea to consult an arborist if you are concerned about mistletoe in your trees.
Article submitted by Lara Schuman, Forestry Program Manager and Certified Arborist, Parks and Recreation Department. Lara is also the current Vice President of the Texas Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture.