AUSTIN (KXAN) – Every Christmas, people across the country are sharing smooches under one particular plant: mistletoe. The plant is common in Texas, but it’s not as romantic as you’d think. It, a lot like some relationships, is parasitic.
So what’s the deal with mistletoe? Meteorologist Kristen Currie wanted to find out. She spoke with Alison Watkins, a horticulturist from Tom Green County, to learn more.
You can watch the video above or read the transcript below to learn more.
KRISTEN CURRIE, KXAN: What do we need to know about mistletoe?
ALISON WATKINS, HORTICULTURIST: Mistletoe is interesting. It’s a semi parasitic plant. So a true parasitic plant doesn’t have any chlorophyll. It can’t make any of its own food and mistletoe is green so it can do some of its own food making through photosynthesis.
It extends roots into the tree into the wood of the tree. It saps water and nutrients from the tree so it takes away from the tree to survive. It’s not a good thing to have on your trees.
It’s stressful. It takes away from the host and when it’s a stressful year with heat and drought, then it’ll be worse as well.
But it is fun to have, you know, as a decoration. A common misconception is that the berries are red. It kind of gets mixed up with holly berries but mistletoe has white berries and on the tree those berries are full of seeds.
It is pretty slow growing. If you just pull it off every few years, it will likely not get to the point of making a bunch of seeds that can keep spreading to more branches. That’s one thing you can do.
Also realize it is good for wildlife. There’s butterflies and bees and birds that really benefit from that mistletoe. It’s always a balance so you know do you want to control it or do you want to leave it for nature?
CURRIE: Does mistletoe grow locally here in Texas then?
WATKINS: Oh, yeah, you can see mistletoe all over Texas. It grows in oaks a lot and mesquite trees. There are certain trees that really likes heck berries, but it’ll grow in lots of different kinds of trees all over Texas.
CURRIE: Now let me ask you this is the mistletoe poisonous like if we for whatever reason accidentally ingest it?
WATKINS: Do not ingest any part of the mistletoe. The berries are pretty poisonous. The whole plant isn’t good for you. It’s not something that will poison you through skin contact unless you have an allergy to it. But don’t ingest it.
You can carefully hang it up as a decoration if you like. It’s fun to do but just don’t let anybody, even pets, eat those berries. Birds can enjoy them but they’re not for us to eat.