Viscaceae (Mistletoe Family)
What's in a Name?
birdlime. Handfuls of ripe berries were chewed or boiled, formed into long strands and coiled around tree branches. A bird lands on the sticky branch and there he stays, until the bird-eating hunter returns to pluck him off. This is illegal in many countries now, by the way. Birdlime was also used to manufacture British sticky bombs in WWII.
According to some accounts, "mistletoe," originally mistelta in Saxon, comes from three Sanskrit words: Mas (the Messiah), tal (the womb), and tu (motion to or from). This is the first clue to the enormous cultural power Mistletoe has held throughout history. Read on.
In Montana, you'll find Dwarf Mistletoe, which looks a bit like coral, clinging to branches of Ponderosa, Lodgepole and Limber Pine, Douglas Fir and Western Larch. It's a hemiparasite, relying on its host conifer for most of its water and nutrients. There are 42 species of Arceuthobium worldwide (21 endemic to the US) that prey on members of the Pinaceae and Cupressaceae families. All have greatly reduced leaves (just scales, really) with the bulk of the plant living inside the host. Here's how it works:
Tidbits:Folklore and Fables Dwarf Mistletoe is cousin to the American Mistletoe (Phoradendron flavescens), the leafy plant we all know from the holidays. The mythology of mistletoe goes back thousands of years, far beyond that quick kiss at Christmas. Perhaps it's because mistletoe's evergreen leaves seem a symbol of everlasting life (ironic, since it's also known as the "Vampire Plant" that sucks the life out of its host).
Throughout history and worldwide, it is considered a bestower of fortune, aphrodesiac, antidote to poison and curer of ills. In the Christian faith, mistletoe (mistelta) represented the time between the conception and birth of Jesus, and was supposedly "applied" to him as an infant. Mistletoe was considered sacred long before that, however.
Baldr, god of vegetation, was killed by a spear made of mistletoe. His death brought winter to the world (no good!) so the gods restored him. His mom Frigga declared mistletoe sacred, a bringer of love rather than death. To celebrate Baldr's happy return, any two people passing under the plant now must make the obligatory smooch.
In Scandinavia, it's still considered a plant of peace, under which enemies can declare a truce or quarreling lovers make up.
Ecology Many Dwarf Mistletoe species are considered to be serious threats to forest health. Severe infection can lead to reduced growth, seed and cone development, poor wood quality, increased susceptibility to disease and insect attacks, and premature death. Most of western North America's commercially important conifers are hosts to at least one Dwarf Mistletoe species. Interestingly, higher rates of mistletoe infestation have been linked with higher numbers and greater diversity of birds and other animals, perhaps by creating more nesting sites within the tell-tale witch's broom.
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