Last week’s storms brought down yet more mistletoe-laden trees in our local orchards, and I went to look at a few in yesterday’s sunshine. None of the casualties were a surprise – they were all old, neglected apple trees, with far too much mistletoe on them for long-term survival. The storms have (probably) just accelerated some already inevitable deaths.
Nevertheless it is always upsetting to see these trees down, especially in the location pictured here, where most of the orchard is already gone and it can only be a few years now until they’ve all gone. There’s no orchard replanting scheme here, this is a farm outside the (sometimes unreal) world of conservation projects, and it is struggling to survive, the tenant farmer has been given notice to leave and, in the long-term, housing seems the most likely fate for the site.
I’m never sure what the pre-dominant emotion should be – to be sad at the inevitable passing of these old orchards or to be glad to have known them before they went.
But whether sad or glad, a fallen mistletoe-laden tree is a wonderful opportunity to see mistletoe from a new perspective, and I did quite enjoy my exploration among the branches yesterday. The haustorial connections – where the mistletoe distorts the host branch – could be seen at close quarters, the branching patterns properly examined, and rough aging estimated for each clump.
The mistletoe flowers are just beginning to open too – though not on the mistletoe on fallen trees, their buds remain shut and that mistletoe is dying. But on the live mistletoe on upright trees the female and male flowers were just beginning to crack open, with a hint of nectar showing in some. No pollinating insects yet though – I think the local bees need more than a single day of sunshine to be persuaded out after the weather of the last 2 months!
Plenty of evidence of birds though – with the usual but always fascinating strings of mistletoe seeds hanging here and there – which are a sure sign of mistle thrush digestive activity.
And evidence of larger animals too, with all the mistletoe leaves grazed off the lowest growths on the fallen trees.
This is despite mistletoe’s modern reputation as poisonous. In truth it is highly prized by grazing animals – when they can reach it – and has a long tradition, in old agricultural practices, as a winter feed. In this location the culprits were probably deer, though sheep and cattle will do exactly the same when they can.
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