Nevada Public Radio Listen Live

"Marketplace"
Facebook Twitter Follow Nevada Public Radio

Support Nevada Public Radio
December 24, 2002
Podcasts

Listen

I was at a party the other day and suddenly a friend ran up to me hollering, 'HEY', then he kissed me! It took me by surprise, that's for sure. Good thing he was a friend.

So it turns out, as I'm sure you've already guessed, this was a holiday party, and I was standing under a sprig of mistletoe. Some romantic soul had hung it from the ceiling. I didn't know that people still followed that tradition, or maybe it's just that I never stood under mistletoe before. At any rate, it got me thinking about mistletoe in general.

There are many different kinds of mistletoe, and they come from all over the globe. Europe, Australia, North and South America, they all have their own varieties. Although, botanically, the plants are very diverse, they all have one thing in common. They're parasitic, or at least partly so. Many, but not all, have green leaves and produce flowers and fruits - those white berries that you see on the stuff you buy. What none of them produce are roots to obtain water and soil nutrients. They grow, up in the crowns of trees, and depend on host plants for their nourishment.

I think that the kissing tradition developed around this plant because it grew up in the air, in the trees, without any obvious means of getting water. There are mistletoe legends from all over Europe. The druids of ancient Ireland and England thought it was sacred, and they used it as a medicinal plant. I just read that among the Anglo Saxons, if two enemies met under the mistletoe, they had to lay down their arms and declare a one-day truce. Isn't that an idea worth resurrecting? Apparently Scandinavians had a similar tradition, and they also had a myth where the goddess of love would kiss anyone who walked under the mistletoe.

In other parts of Europe, the plant was a fertility symbol. It was important to some group's marriage rites. Mistletoe was associated with the old pagan feast of Saturnalia, that's the one that celebrated the winter solstice in mid-December.

So, it would make sense - having enemies make up, being a symbol of fertility, being involved with marriage, and that December connection - of course it would all come together and we'd be kissing under the mistletoe at holiday parties.

The host plant, on the other hand, will suffer to some degree if it's infected with a parasite, including a parasitic plant. Since mistletoe doesn't produce roots, it needs to take whatever's available from the tree where it's growing. The tree pulls water and nutrition from the soil, and the mistletoe taps into that system, which is the only way it's able to survive.

Now, what I am about to say is blasphemy.

When I first moved to Southern Nevada, I was kind of excited when I learned that there was so much mistletoe around. I thought it would be kind of cool to have all that kissing going on. I was wrong. Not about the kissing (I think that would be fine), but about the mistletoe. You can't just go out to the Spring Mountains and cut a tree branch for mistletoe to hang in a doorway at Christmas. Of course, you can't just go cutting up public trees anyway, but the kissing kind of mistletoe is not from around here, and doesn't live here.

What we have here is something called dwarf mistletoe. It doesn't have attractive waxy leaves like the stuff that gets hung up in doorways. It doesn't have those little white berries that are supposed to be plucked with every kiss.

The true mistletoe, the kissing kind, will damage a hardwood, like oak.

Dwarf mistletoe is a different story entirely. This is a group of plants that live on conifers - the softwood trees such as pines, firs, and spruce. You can see the effect pretty easily, as a phenomenon called 'Witches broom'. When you look at a conifer and see an area where the twigs and leaves are densely bunched up, and often brown, you are most likely looking at a dwarf mistletoe infection. It seems to be endemic to the southwest, and current wisdom is leaning in the direction that it can be managed, but probably not controlled, and certainly not get rid of it entirely. An infected tree will not grow in a healthy upright fashion, but in a home landscape this is probably not too much of an issue. Since it spreads from tree to tree, you'd need a good-sized stand for infection, and birds in the southwest don't generally appear to eat the seeds. Lately, biologists have noticed recently that some wildlife actually relies on the witches broom for shelter.

And, if you want to kiss under dwarf mistletoe why not start a new tradition?

For KNPR's Desert Bloom, this is Dr. Angela O'Callaghan of the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.

See discussion rules.

Archives

AngelaFeb 19, 2015 | Tricky Spring
If you're thinking that our warm weather means your plants are safe from a late frost, you're probably right. But then again, you never know. It only seems that Jack Frost has skipped a visit to Southern Nevada this year. Here's Angela O'Callaghan with Desert Bloom.

NormFeb 14, 2015 | Selective Pruning
Norm Schilling guides gardeners to keep up as Spring approaches. Selective pruning will keep things on track in the yard.

NormJan 21, 2015 | Prepare for Spring Now
Don't look at the calendar. Look at your plants to tell you what do to in the yard right now. Your plants think Spring is near, so use this time to transplant and prune. Desert Gardener Norm Schilling tells us what to look for.

NormDec 30, 2014 | Winter and Citrus
Citrus can thrive in Southern Nevada - even in our cold - when you choose the right varieties. Norm Schilling tells us how.

AngelaDec 13, 2014 | To Prune or Not to Prune
As winter draws near, leaves begin to fall. And the bare view may prompt some excessive pruning. It's tempting, but your plants may appreciate a little restraint. Here's Angela O'Callaghan with Desert Bloom.

NormDec 6, 2014 | Prepare Your Plants for Cold Weather
It's not cold . . . yet, but Norm says be ready and your yard will appreciate it. Don't let a cold snap cost you your investment in plants in your yard. Norm Schilling has some ideas to get ready.

AngelaNov 25, 2014 | Evergreens
As we head into the holiday season, more attention is given to 'evergreens.' Too many cones on a pine tree might be a sign of weakness. Angela O'Callaghan tells us all about evergreens on Desert Bloom.

NormNov 14, 2014 | Fall Colors
Even in the desert, Fall colors can brighten your landscape. Here's Norm Schilling with Desert Bloom.

NormOct 28, 2014 | Fall Colors - Web Only Edition
With glorious weather for our yards to fall back into bloom, Norm has some additional suggestions for color to add to the profusion of blooms for this time of year. (Web-only content)

NormOct 7, 2014 | Second Spring
The call it a "second spring" Norm Schilling has some plan ideas to make Fall colorful in your yard. He has a checklist of plants looking their best, because now is the time to plant in Southern Nevada.

AngelaSep 30, 2014 | Fountain Grass
A weed by any other name is still a weed even if it doesn't look like one. If only everything in our gardens thrived as well as weeds. Here is Angela O'Callaghan.

NormSep 15, 2014 | Desert Heat
Norm describes a significant casualty of the desert heat. There's going to be a big gap in Norm's Yard and a lesson on the reality of our desert landscape.

AngelaAug 12, 2014 | Organic Pesticides
Choosing a method for ridding your garden of an unwanted guest, be it bug or weed, is not always a simple choice. But the more you know, the better it goes. Here's Angela O'Callaghan

NormJul 28, 2014 | Lose that Lawn
We know, it's a desert out there including every place there's a lawn. Norm Schilling reminds us all the ways he wants you to consider losing the lawn... permanently.

AngelaJul 14, 2014 | Protect Fruit Trees from Birds
If you put a good deal of care into growing fruit trees, there are likely some birds who will take advantage of your effort. Here's Angela O'Callaghan.

NormJul 10, 2014 | Palm Care, Part 2
To keep, or not to keep. Norm Schilling ponders his palm trees, on this edition of Desert Bloom.

NormJun 10, 2014 | Palm Care
Norm Schilling has mixed feelings about how we use Palms in our yards. Full grown palm trees transplanted into the entry way of a mall is a common sight that tells Southern Nevadan's "something" is nearly open for business. He reminds us that those palms come with challenges.

AngelaJun 3, 2014 | Hot Weather Plants
As temperatures across the Valley begin to climb, you might be wondering what will survive in your garden in the months ahead and what probably won't. There are some 'sweet' options. Here's Angela O'Callaghan

NormMay 20, 2014 | Desert Color
Norm Schilling just got back from Belize and has some ideas for lush leaves in your desert yard. He reflects on some well suited plants to provide color and variety in this edition of Desert Bloom.

AngelaMay 6, 2014 | Emerald Ash Borer
Raising a healthy shade tree in the Mojave is not always easy. And if one particular insect makes its way here, it could get even harder. Here's Angela O'Callaghan with Desert Bloom.

© 2014 NEVADA PUBLIC RADIO   
Web hosting facilities provided by Switch.