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Did You Know Mistletoe Grows On Trees? We Didn't, Until We Went Outside And Looked Up

Mistletoe in its natural environment: the green, berry-filled plant hangs in a clump from branches of a live oak tree.
Mistletoe in its natural environment: the green, berry-filled plant hangs in a clump from branches of a live oak tree.
Mistletoe in its natural environment: the green, berry-filled plant hangs in a clump from branches of a live oak tree.
Credit Rob Diaz de Villegas / WFSU-TV
Mistletoe in its natural environment: the green, berry-filled plant hangs in a clump from branches of a live oak tree.

If you’re NOT driving right now, raise your hand if you knew mistletoe grew on trees? If you did, great. If you didn’t, you’re like a number of people here at WFSU, including me, who had no clue, until we went outside the building, and looked up.

WFSU’s studios are surrounded by palm trees, live oak’s and evergreens. Just outside the front doors are a group of three oak’s, currently bare save for these big, green clump-like growths hanging out on some of the branches. "That's Mistletoe," said Regan McCarthy, our assignment editor. "Really?" I asked, surprised. She looked at me like I had three heads and inquired how I didn’t know that. So, I asked around the office.

The Leon County-UF IFAS extension office's Mark Tancig climbs up into one of WFSU's Live Oak Trees to cut down a piece of mistletoe. (12/2019)
Credit Lydell Rawls / WFSU Public Media
The Leon County-UF IFAS extension office's Mark Tancig climbs up into one of WFSU's Live Oak Trees to cut down a piece of mistletoe. (12/2019)

"Did you know mistletoe grew on trees?"

Most of the newsroom didn't know. But others, like Lydell Rawls, our listener support coordinator, did. Or rather, he had an inkling.

"I didn't know for a fact but I figured mistletoe grew on trees," he said.

Turns out I’m definitely not alone in my cluelessness. So, we called our local agriculture office and they came out to the station to take a look.

Leon County-University of Florida extension agent  Mark Tancig puts a tall, metal ladder against the tree and starts to climb. He gets about 20-feet off the ground and, using a pole saw for additional height,  starts sawing off a hunk of the green stuff on the tree. The ladder rocks a bit, and there’s probably some rule about this that we’re ignoring right now in the name of science.

A piece of the bush falls to the ground and takes a bounce. Tancig climbs down.

“Here we are…mistletoe!” He declares. I pick up a branch and hold it out for inspection.

WFSU News Director Lynn Hatter holding a piece of mistletoe (12/2019)
Credit Lydell Rawls / WFSU Public Media
WFSU News Director Lynn Hatter holding a piece of mistletoe (12/2019)

Up close, mistletoe looks like a bush, with wishbone-type branches in a bundle—like a green tumbleweed, almost. It’s got white berries on it and has that “holiday festiveness” look going for it. But, turns out—the plant responsible for stolen kisses and probably lots of face-slaps…is a parasite.

“It takes, but doesn’t give anything back. In this case, the mistletoe is stealing water and nutrients from the tree," Tancig says.

That doesn’t mean the plant is all bad. Mistletoe is a native species, and it supplies berries as food for birds. Mistletoe also prefers its hosts alive, and won’t be directly responsible for a tree’s demise. And, it still makes for some great holiday décor.

To learn more about the Mistletoe growing in WFSU's trees, check out our environmental blog!

Mistletoe | A Parasite for the Holidays (But Maybe We Like it Anyway?)

A couple of weeks ago, WFSU-FM News Director Lynn Hatter came into my office. She excitedly told me that there was mistletoe growing in the trees outside. Mistletoe! And here we are in early December, at the right time for a cute holiday plant story. Neither of us knew much about the plant.

Copyright 2020 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.