Mistletoe: Christmas Magic Or Parasite?

As you probably have witnessed in your favorite Christmas movies this time of year; a common scene is the magical kissing scene under the mistletoe. Although noted as a fun Christmas tradition, mistletoe is a serious issue for many of our North Texas trees.

Mistletoe is a parasite that weakens and steals precious water from the host tree as well as create a weak point on the branch that is susceptible to breaking. Mistletoe is spread from tree to tree by sticky seeds that birds and other animals enjoy eating. Once the seeds land on a new host tree, the seeds germinate, and the roots penetrate the bark and begin to grow inside the branch. For 2-3 years the roots will grow inside the tree branch before sending out the leaves. Mistletoe only seeds once every 3 years allows for a window of opportunity to reduce the spread of the parasite in the tree to other trees.

Luckily, this time of year mistletoe is much easier to see. As many of our trees have dropped their leaves in preparation for the winter season, the evergreen mistletoe has become exposed as it sits like a big ball of green on the naked trees. Due to the penetrating root system, mistletoe is best removed by cutting out the infected branch. Removal of the mistletoe’s leaves and branches alone is not enough, as the parasitic roots will push out new growth. Removal of the host tree’s branch 12″ below the visible mistletoe is essential to remove all the root system and prevent reinfection. Other treatment options include removing the mistletoe and wrapping the branch with a black tarp to prevent regrowth and chemical treatments to kill the visible growth. Spraying the mistletoe should only be done while the tree is dormant as the chemical will damage the host tree if it makes contact with the leaves. Follow up treatments are required as the treatment only kills the visible growth, and the roots need to die so it will not grow back.

So, if you look up at your dormant leafless trees and see some misplaced green leaves, give our ISA Certified Arborists a call. We will help remove the parasite from your trees and if you want a little extra Holiday cheer to extend the season, we can leave you some mistletoe to hang in your home.

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