Marvelous Mistletoe.

WildNet - Zsuzsanna Bird

It’s the most wonderful time of the year... because mistletoe can be easily spotted in beautiful bunches on bare branches in the trees!

Out of 900 species found worldwide, we have one just one species of Mistletoe in the UK, the European Mistletoe. It’s a hemiparasitic plant due to it taking water and nutrients from its host but also photosynthesising itself. 

Mistletoe has in recent years spread and expanded its range in Eastern parts of the UK and it is thought largely due to an increase of Blackcaps coming over from Germany and spending Christmas with us. These migratory birds, like other birds such as Mistle Thrushes, feast on the plump berries wiping their beaks afterwards to rid them of the sticky mess on branches and spreading the plant’s seed. If these seeds are in the right spot on a branch then they may just germinate and grow. Blackcaps are thought to be the best dispersers of Mistletoe berries and arriving here in their thousands have helped decorate the trees more widely in this region!

European Mistletoe

European Mistletoe along Colchester Road Ipswich 

As well as providing a good food source for birds, Mistletoe is also important for a nationally scare species, the Mistletoe Marble moth. Found only in six counties in the UK, unfortunately excluding ours, Mistletoe plays a crucial role in the species life cycle. After hatching from eggs the female has laid in a mine in a Mistletoe leaf, the caterpillar will then hatch and gorge itself for several months. Leaving a blister like dome behind, the caterpillar will then find a new home under the trees’ lichen or bark where it will then pupate. 

Whilst Mistletoe numbers are currently stable, the loss of traditional orchards have seen a sharp decline in numbers and there is concern that relying on the good work of Mistle Thrushes and Blackcaps might not be quite enough in the future to stop the decline. 

We love Mistletoe and thinks it’s a great festive plant. Why not go on a Mistletoe hunt and see how many bunches you can find in and around the town? Perhaps you can spot some on your way to work, way home from school or whilst out walking the dog? It’s great fun once you start looking!