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It is probably best that you purchase it from a store. American mistletoe (Phoradendron leucacarpum) is a native plant that is parasitic on trees and can severely damage or even kill them over time. It is fairly common in our regional landscape, particularly found on cedar elm (Ulmus crassifolia) and oak (Quercus spp.), which are two of its favorite host trees.

Small greenish flowers give rise to sticky white berries that are spread from tree to tree by birds and arboreal mammals such as squirrels. The berries get lodged into a crevice in a branch and, if conditions are right, they will sprout root-like structures called haustoria. These haustoria grow into the circulatory system of the tree and draw moisture and nutrients from it. Large established colonies of mistletoe can completely engulf the entire canopy of a tree and literally suck the life out of it while also smothering it. Once mistletoe is in place, it cannot be killed without harming the tree; the only way to completely get rid of it is to remove the section of the branch on which it is growing.

It is a shame that a plant that is so beloved is so harmful. Other examples of parasitic plants that grow in our region are the beautiful and somewhat benign Indian paintbrush (Castilleja spp.) that grows with field grasses and herbaceous plants, and dodder (Cuscuta spp.), a very destructive, full-blown parasite which looks like orange silly string and smothers its host plants, rapidly sucking the life out of them like a vegetative vampire!

Darrin Duling is the former director of Mercer Botanic Gardens in Humble. Send your questions to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Darrin Duling
Author: Darrin DulingEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
I am the director of Mercer Botanic Gardens located at 22306 Aldine Westfield Road in Humble. I hold The Royal Horticultural Society of England certificate of training, The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, diploma of horticulture and a Master of Science degree in plant taxonomy from the University of Reading, England. I have worked in botanic gardens in England, Thailand, Florida and New York, and was sole proprietor of Duling Designs LLC, a landscape design/consultation business in Greenwich, Conn. My botanical explorations have taken me to Brazil, Brunei, Sabah, Singapore, Thailand, Peru and other exotic destinations.