Many of us hang a sprig of Mistletoe over a doorway during the holidays because it allows us to “kiss” someone when they often are not expecting it. European folklore speaks of mistletoe as being a symbol of love, peace and goodwill, while the ancient Druids of Britain used it to celebrate the coming of winter — thus our use of it during the wintry Christmas/New Year holiday season.
There are about 36 species of native Mistletoe in the USA and Canada. The genus name for American Mistletoe is Phoradendron which means “tree thief.” Phoradendron Lucarpum is the most common throughout the USA.
Because it is parasitic, this evergreen shrub is found growing in the tops of hardwood trees in the eastern and southern USA and as far west as Texas. It prefers oak, elm and poplar for its hosts, but is not particularly fussy. It relies upon the trees for water and minerals and slowly kills them over time.
As sad as this relationship is, Mistletoe is good for many birds and butterflies as well as large and small critters not only for food, but also for shelter and nesting. Several hairstreak butterflies, for example, use several of the Phoradendron species as their larval host. The white berries, although poisonous to humans, are eaten in the winter by many birds, including the chickadees, waxwings and bluebirds.
So enjoy this holiday plant knowing it is useful for more things than just kissing!
To read about the many legends associated with mistletoe.