"Mistletoe berries are not ripe until the spring! Is this
....... Mistletoe berries mostly ripen from October and November. They change from green through yellow to a translucent or pearly white upon ripening. Those growing in moderate shade are likely to remain a pale greenish-yellow overwinter and may ripen the following spring as the weather begins to warm but any underdeveloped green ones that are growing in heavy shade don't ripen at all and are shed by the plant. If your mistletoe has been gathered in November for pre-Christmas sale, then a fair proportion of berries may still be green, according to how favourable the growing season has been.
... "If they are white they are ripe!" ...
. . . .
....... The green berries will be shed, the yellow ones will probably ripen in springtime but some are under-size and the large white ones are fully grown most having ripened in November: these contain the best seeds for growing. It doesn't matter if your berries become wrinkled during storage so long as they are not completely dry. Apply the seed to a tree by April to benefit from a full growing season.
"Make a cut in the bark and push the mistletoe seed in! Is this
....... You don't have to make a cut in the bark although it may help to anchor the seed. This method is often repeatedly quoted, but I have found that it is largely counter-productive. Also you don't really want to damage the bark of your best apple tree and allow in disease or pests. Mistletoe has evolved over millions of years to grow from many seeds being randomly deposited on trees by birds and few will be left in the best position from which to grow. By growing several hundreds of seeds I have established the best set of circumstances to ensure their survival, culminating in a success rate of over 80% in ideal conditions.
"I have tried pushing the mistletoe seed into a crack in the
bark in the tree trunk but it didn't work! Is this the best place??"
....... Not really, you don't have to push the seed into a crack in the bark. On most large trees cracked bark is likely to be too old and thick, too dark and harbour too many pests for the seedling to survive well there: mistletoe likes to grow into the sunshine otherwise the berries may not ripen.
"Do I need to cover the mistletoe seeds?"
....... No, you must not exclude the light or, like any green plant, the germinated seed will slowly turn yellow and die. If you have a lot of small birds visiting the garden protect the seeds with some wire netting for the first 2 years.
"Does mistletoe take many years to grow?"
....... The first two years are slow. The mistletoe seedling is in effect waiting for the tree to grow around it's 'root'. Thereafter growth accelerates like any other perennial plant. On the cultivated apple you can easily have a berried plant in the 5th. year although on more difficult trees growth will take longer. Make the effort now and nature will do the rest: in a year or two you will be pleasantly surprised when you find the first leaves! The mistletoe plant will live and give enjoyment for many years once established and you can spread it to other branches if you wish.
"Mistletoe grows roots down into the tree..."
....... Mistletoe doesn't grow with the roots of a garden plant as the tree does that part for it. Instead it forms a structure within the tree branch, the haustorium which operates like the placenta in a mammal, transferring nutrients from host to 'parasite'.
"Mistletoe doesn't grow in the North..."
....... Mistletoe is a very hardy plant and will grow wherever its common host trees will grow. There are many recorded examples of plants growing in Scotland, some grow as far north as Stockholm in Sweden, nearly 60 degrees north. In the wild it is limited by seed distribution mainly by the mistle thrush, (other birds apart from blackcaps and woodpigeons find it unattractive to eat), occurrence of host trees and a favourable moist climate in spring to start its germination.
"Will the mistletoe seedlings be damaged by birds?"
....... This is a possibility, sometimes seeds go missing leaving behind the seed-case, indicating that they have been torn off. Blue tits and others survive by their ingenuity and so they are quite likely to have an inquisitive peck or two, in which case you may have to deploy some wire mesh to keep them off. Don't hang your bird feeder in the same tree!
"My Christmas mistletoe berries may have been imported from
France; will they grow here?"
....... It is always a good idea to get your wild plant seed from as close as possible to home. In Britain mistletoe is mainly gathered for sale from the remaining old apple orchards of Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Somerset and therefore is our best available source. Imported berries may not be quite so well adapted to survive here although the difference is probably not so great as to prevent them from growing. Home grown seed is available!
"My mistletoe doesn't have berries on. How can I get them to
....... Mistletoe usually starts to flower in its 5th. year and has separate male and female plants so you need to have at least one of each in proximity in order to get berries. If you have a single female plant, identifiable by its insignificant late winter flowers (see photographs in booklet), then bring some male flowers from elsewhere and hand pollinate (usually in late February or March). Put some more seed onto the stems of the plant itself (in a well lit place), as these will soon take and you will eventually get more male and female stems.
"Several of my mistletoe seeds germinated this year but then
suddenly disappeared in the summertime. What have I done wrong?"
....... The seedlings have very likely been picked off by birds or the tender green shoot eaten by woodlice during the night. The answer is to increase the number of seeds placed in a variety of places such as the clefts where branches divide. Protect a group of seeds with a piece of wire netting formed around a branch. Use some grease-bands (glue-bands) on the tree just below the seeds and also around the trunk to keep pests away. These are quite inexpensive and available from garden centres and stores such as Wilkos. They will help prevent woodlice from reaching the seedlings and also stop ants from 'farming' greenfly on an apple tree.
"Is mistletoe poisonous?"
....... I am not an expert on poisoning but the common sense answer is yes, assume that it is and keep it away from young children and pets and you won't be the person to find out. It is known to contain chemicals that are toxic and is thought to have some potential as a cancer treatment. Dogs are the most likely pet to swallow your Christmas mistletoe and this has apparently resulted in a small number of fatalities - see Provet website: mistletoe poisoning please note that holly is more toxic than mistletoe so keep the berries away from your dogs.