Stealing nutrients

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Mistletoe is an unusual plant that does not put down roots into the ground. Instead, it grows in the tops of trees.

Its sticky seeds are dispersed by birds after eating mistletoe berries. Mistletoe seeds that stick onto live tree limbs will sprout there, root into the bark of the limb and steal the nutrients found in the tree's sap. Because of this idiosyncrasy mistletoe is considered to be a parasitic plant.

Worldwide there are numerous species of mistletoe. The species native to Southeast Missouri has brittle green limbs, flat oval smooth leaves and small white berries.

Not all trees are susceptible to mistletoe. I found the mistletoe pictured here growing in the high limbs of a large black gum tree about 60 feet up. Owls will sometimes roost during the day within the confines of a clump of mistletoe, possibly in an attempt to avoid detection and subsequent harassment by crows.

Mistletoe is sometimes hung inside homes as a Christmas season decoration. A young man who notices a young lady unknowingly standing under such mistletoe may dare to steal a kiss. Of course, the words "young" and "unknowingly" are subject to personal interpretation.

Through the Woods is a weekly nature photo column by Aaron Horrell. Find this column at to order a reprint of the photo. Find more work by him at the O'Tenem Gallery.

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