cthomegrh's picture

Mistletoe diminishing

The "Saving Species" programme on BBC R4 has mentioned that mistletoe is in decline. Now, whilst I do not doubt this, I personally seem to be seeing more mistletoe.
I grew up around Hamble in Hampshire in the fifties and I cannot recall ever seeing mistletoe in the wild. Hamble is not exactly the countryside so I was not surprised but I saw none in the New Forest or on trips camping in the west country or Wales. I knew it was a parasite but did not know where it grew or on what trees.
In the nineties, I started noticing mistletoe clumps on trees between Southampton and Romsey and between then and now I have seen more and more. It is more noticeable in the winter due to the lack of trees.
Saving Species mentions orchards as hosts but the trees I notice are not apples trees. A couple that are quite close to where I live in Havant (again, not the countryside) are oaks.
Are my observations in line with what is really happening to mistletoe? If in decline in orchards in the west country, is is taking hold elsewhere, on a diversity of trees? What environmental factors would have allowed its spread? Reduction in air pollution since smokeless fuel was introduced? Newer bird species?



cthomegrh's picture

More on Mistletoe

Seems my perception is about right. Mistletoe is spreading and the predominance of mistletoe on orchard trees was caused by husbandry, not because mistletoe prefers orchards: small trees - low branches - easy to harvest - best for Christmas sales. Because orchards are being neglected the mistletoe grows unchecked and can kill the tree.
There is a web site devoted to this:


Refugee's picture

I have seen it on Poplar

I have managed to get an awful photo of it.
It tends to rely on birds wiping the sticky seeds off there beaks and the fact that the seed itself is not tasty and/or poisonous is the way it spreads. Much of the Poplar here has been cleared due to it dropping branches. My family cleared six from a garden because they were within 30 feet of the house and were 40 feet high with roots ripping up paving slabs within inches of buildings. There is little space to grow the host trees in the UK now due to high land prices. They were seeded onto orchard trees for the owners end of year bonus after the fruits had been harvested. I have seen a lot of it on distant trees in great quantity in the mid southwest of France in 2007 on what looked like Poplar or Willow while traveling by road. They may not harvest it for sale there and the trees are away from roads in places where there is more space for them.
Perhaps we need to have words with some of the national park managers to get some trees planted that it naturally grows on before we loose it.
I have not done a full check of what it grows on but naturally seeded specimens seem to be on trees that are not planted in any quantity in the UK any more.

I have put some awful pictures on.


Jonathan Briggs's picture

Mistletoe increase/decrease

Saving Species shouldn't be telling you that mistletoe is declining. That's a long way from the whole story. Indeed, as you've observed, it is increasing in many areas and contexts.

The 'decline' story is a media-distorted version of the undeniable fact that most of the mistletoe crop, each Christmas, comes from old apple orchards in the SW Midlands. Those orchards are decreasing rapidly - and so is the mistletoe availability. There's a big issue for mistletoe abundance, in these contexts, and for the mistletoe crop.

BUT... two other things are going on.

Firstly, within those remaining old orchards of the SW midlands mistletoe is actually plentiful than it used to be because of management neglect. So there is, temporarily, only whilst those neglected orchards survive (which may be a couple more decades), an excess apparent locally.

Secondly, mistletoe is not confined to apple trees or orchards - and there's no threat whatsoever to it in the wider environment. Indeed recent evidence suggests increase not decrease.

Moral of this story is don't believe the media, not even the BBC Natural History Unit. They don't do quite enough research...

For more on this see my mistletoe websites - survey to assess the remaining orchard/mistletoe problem can be accessed at www.british.mistletoe.org.uk

My frustration at the constant misrepresentaion of this can be found in the blog at http://mistletoematters.wordpress.com/

A specific rant is at http://mistletoematters.wordpress.com/2011/12/21/will-the-extinction-sto...

Refugee's picture

Fobbed off

We will almost certainly get fobbed off that they were only talking about commercially viable crops.
If it continues to spread into little bits it will be left alone.