Growing your own, for the common good, in NZ

My recent post about the new mistletoe-eating bird in Borneo reminded me of several other exotic (to us in Britain) mistletoe stories. One particular story from last year came to mind – a project in New Zealand where local residents were being given mistletoe seeds in an effort to re-establish local mistletoe species.

NZ mistletoe berries collected for the project

The project, based in Christchurch, involved the collection of seeds by local ecologists and then the doling out of 20 seeds each to local volunteers, for them to plant onto suitable hosts, especially in gardens.  Participants were asked to monitor their seeds to assess success, or failure.

It’s a curious concept – but one which has echoes over here – I’ve worked with many UK conservation groups trying to get mistletoe established in parks and nature reserves –mainly in the east of England, where our mistletoe is relatively uncommon.  Including some very well-known parks and a few palace gardens.  And of course I’ve been involved in garden mistletoe plantings for many years, both directly and through provision of mistletoe grow-kits online.

The trick, which will probably apply to NZ as well as UK mistletoe, is to remember where (i.e which branch, and whereabouts on the branch) you planted the seeds and to be patient, as initial growth is slow and it may be several years before you get a growth of any size.  I’ve lost count of the number of people who write to me, several years after planting, saying they are astonished to find their mistletoe is growing – they assumed, because they had overlooked the initial small growths, that they had failed, but actually they’d been very successful.

I’m not sure how quickly those NZ species grow – but having looked up the story again I see that 2018 was the second year of the project – I wonder whether that’s a reflection of the same problem, establishment after just one year is difficult to assess, so people try again. Although, on reading the news story published in 2018 it seems that 200 new plants had been recorded as established the year before, so perhaps those NZ species establish more quickly than ours!

The Christchurch project was led by Kristina Macdonald, an ecologist with Christchurch City Council – there’s a video with her explaining the project below.  Note that she stresses the value of the plant for gardens – both as an attractive plant and as a resource for other species.  For info on the original 2017 initiative click here and for the 2018 follow-up click here.  As far as I’m aware this project is now completed.


You don’t have to be in NZ to grow mistletoe in your garden.

Try it in the UK with a Mistletoe Grow-Kit from the English Mistletoe Shop

Details at  https://englishmistletoeshop.co.uk

 

The Spectacled Flowerpecker – a new bird that likes mistletoe

Picture by Chien C Lee

Ten years ago, deep in the Borneo rainforest, a new species of bird was spotted feeding on berries from one of the local mistletoe species.  Small, grey but quite pretty it was given the name Spectacled Flowerpecker – but not, at the time, a formal scientific name because that needs formal examination and description – which means a bird in the hand, not in the bush.

The preliminary announcements about it in 2010 hailed it as a perfect example of how little we still know about the species of our planet and how diverse biodiversity actually is.

The canopy level walkways where the bird can be spotted. Picture by Chien C Lee

Fast-forward 10 years, to 2019, and this little bird still hadn’t been formally described and named.  Primarily because it is so small, just 2 inches tall, and is so difficult to spot, let alone capture.  It feeds largely in the forest canopy up amongst the mistletoe plants whose berries it eats – most sightings have been from the forest walkways erected in the canopy as a new form of ecotourism. Click here for a blog describing some 2017 sightings.  An account on the Audubon website describes the difficulties in documenting it.

This year, 2019, a specimen was finally caught, an incidental capture as part of a wider study with mist nets, and so it was properly documented and given a formal scientific name: Dicaeum dayakorum.  The specific part is in honour of the indigenous Dayak people who live in and help protect the bird’s native forests.  Here’s the header (click to enlarge) from the formal paper describing it – the full paper is at https://www.biotaxa.org/Zootaxa/article/view/zootaxa.4686.4.1

The genus Dicaeum, by the way, includes numerous other species of flowerpecker, many also feeding on mistletoes.  These include the Australian Mistletoe Bird Dicaeum hirundinaceum which featured in one of the BBC TV’s  David Attenborough natural history series some years ago. The broadcast clip showed a bird wiping the semi-digested mistletoe berry, complete with seed, from it’s er, bum, onto a branch. Very efficient. It’s not clear whether the Spectacled Flowerpecker is that good or whether it’s more of a hit’n’miss mistletoe spreader like our own Mistle Thrush (see various older mistletoe diary entries …).

 

Mistletoe seed distribution – why leave it all to the birds?

Try doing it yourself with a Mistletoe Grow-Kit from the English Mistletoe Shop

Details at  https://englishmistletoeshop.co.uk

 

 

Mistletoe ‘crop’ 2018 – looking good, ripening early?

aimage006redAlmost November, so time to look at how mistletoe is looking for Christmas this year. And, again (this is several years in a row now) it’s looking fairly good.  The female plants I’ve looked at are festooned with berries and it would seem we have yet another ‘bumper crop’.

Of course it’s not a crop, not in the conventional sense of something grown for harvest, as most simply grows where it wants to and isn’t actively encouraged.  But in areas and habitats where it grows well – primarily the SW midlands in mature (often over-mature) apple orchards – it can seem like a crop, and certainly can be harvested like one.

One unusual aspect this season is that many of the berries are whitening up already – whereas they normally stay green well into November.  Why, I don’t know, but it does seem consistent with many other berries and fruits ripening earlier than usual this year. So far it’s only whitening from green, the later change from opaque white to translucent white usually only happens in December/January, so it will be interesting to see if that is early this year too.

First wholesale auctions of apple orchard mistletoe are at the end of November – I’ll report then on how the plants have matured, and what prices are like.

The pictures here were all taken in Gloucestershire Orchard Trust’s orchards at Longney, on the banks of the Severn just south of Gloucester, last week.

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Plans for Mistletoe Diary winter 2018/9

mistletoemachineIt’s that time again, again.  With my first mistletoe talk of the season tomorrow (18th Oct) I’m dusting down the Mistletoe Machine and planning what to say, do and report on this season.

Current thoughts, for the blog this season, include:

  • Reviewing the state of the ‘crop’ (though I never really go along with this ‘crop’ concept – which implies someone actually tends it!)
  • Biodiversity news – reports on latest findings on mistletoe and conservation in the UK including…
    • a possible new UK mistletoe insect, albeit one that simply eats one of the existing mistletoe insects
    • new studies showing how UK mistletoe growths can influence (positively) the wider biodiversity around themselves
  • Plus corresponding news about other mistletoes worldwide – their insects, their conservation value etc.
  • A discussion about recent research on mistletoe’s interesting mitochondrial biology – specifically the lack of Complex 1, part of the respiration chain used by all multicellular organisms, except, er, mistletoe… Don’t be put off, this may be sub-cellular biology but it is, in discovery terms, fairly massive.
  • And, maybe, if that goes well, a review of recent research into mistletoe phylogeny – how mistletoe(s) have evolved.
  • Plus a series of tangential discussions about other plant parasites, particularly the Dodders and Toothworts and how they are, or might be, grown in gardens. Yes, I admit some are, visually, somewhat challenging but others are downright pretty parasites which deserve more appreciation
  • And, talking of growing in gardens, there will be updates on growing mistletoe itself (clue – don’t do what the gardening books say, even the RHS still spouts complete bol**cks on this, it really does make me despair!)

More info, as always, on the sites linked at http://mistletoe.org.uk/

And, for growing it, try englishmistletoeshop.co.uk or growmistletoe.co.uk

Mythletoe Growing Myths

Every year. EVERY year.  The media, even the gardening media, peddle rubbishy old nonsensical myths about how to grow mistletoe.  Yesterday BBC Radio 4 Gardener’s Question Time were telling people to make a hole in the bark, stick the seed in and, wait for it…..  seal it in with Sealing Wax!!! An astonishing thing to suggest – not least because who has a stick of Sealing Wax handy these days?

Meanwhile Smallholder Magazine’s January issue is telling people to cut flaps in bark, stick the seeds under and bind it all up with hessian.

These are not unusual – gardening lore for mistletoe is full of these weird, mediaeval-sounding methods.  Even the official RHS ‘Advice’ does so.

And then they say ‘only one in ten seeds germinate’ (RHS, Smallholder magazine) or that successfully growing mistletoe is the ‘Holy Grail’ of gardening (BBC GQT).  In other words they think it is fiendishly difficult.

Well yes, if you follow their methods it is. As their methods will inhibit germination and kill the seeds.

Whereas, if you apply the tiniest piece of common sense and think about how mistletoe spreads naturally – by birds wiping or excreting seeds onto branches, whereupon they germinate and grow – you’ll realise that there’s no alchemy to this.  The seeds just need to be put on a branch.

The seeds need light, need to penetrate bark their own way and need space to grow.  None of which they get if you’ve buried them in an early grave inside the tree. The seeds just need to be put on a branch.

The seeds just need to be put on a branch.

The seeds just need to be put on a branch.

The seeds just need to be put on a branch.

The seeds just need to be put on a branch.

For considered advice visit mistletoe.org.uk/homewp/index.php/grow-your-own/ and for Grow-Your-Own Kits visit englishmistletoeshop.co.uk

Radio Gloucestershire, despite the snow

kateclarkI was talking mistletoe, and mistletoe Grow-Kits, with Kate Clark from Radio Gloucestershire this morning. In the studio in Gloucester, despite the snow.

Can’t add audio direct to the blog but click the link below to go an extract of the mistletoe bit:

http://mistletoe.org.uk/audio/BBCGlos10thDec2017.mp3?_=1

Or, for the whole programme try iplayer here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p001y3bx/episodes/player

And for Grow-Kits themselves try here:  https://englishmistletoeshop.co.uk or here: http://growmistletoe.co.uk

Tenbury Auctions Week #2

Another mistletoe auction this week – and another week with lots of lots.  All very well-berried and mostly nice green foliage, so good stuff.  Some lots were looking a little yellow here and there. The standard yellow auction labels tend to accentuate any yellow in the foliage – which is a little unfortunate!

Prices this week were higher than last week “1st Quality” fetched up to £3 per kg and averaged £1.50, “2nd Quality” fetched up to £1.00 and averaged £0.50.  No great fortunes to be made but reassuring after last week’s low prices.  Full details are on http://nickchampion.co.uk/auctions/holly-and-mistletoe/

A few pictures below – click to enlarge them.

Meanwhile back in Tenbury Wells town centre every shop was still bedecked with bunches of ribboned mistletoe, following the mistletoe festival day last weekend.  And, on  this visit, I had a look at Tenbury’s new Tesco, built on the site of the old mistletoe auction yard (actually the old cattle market but most famous for the mistletoe!).

This Tesco has been 7 years in the making, controversial from the start, with worries about its effect on trade in the rest of the town and, because of the riverside site, the impacts on flooding (a serious problem for Tenbury).  But in May this year it was finally opened, and they’ve included a mistletoe theme around the car park!   All the bollards and the frieze alongside the open ‘market’ area have mistletoe imagery.

Or do they? It’s not very convincing mistletoe! Tesco’s designers need to try harder – they’ve got the paired leaves but not grasped the equally, if not more, distinctive geometric paired stems.  But it’s too late to grumble now – and at least they tried.  I’d give it ‘5/10’ and a ‘See Me After Class’. Make your own mind up from the pictures below:

An accurate design; with paired leaves but also its classic perfectly bifurcating branches

To be fair they’re not alone – despite mistletoe being one of our most visually distinctive plants a lot of seasonal Christmas designers end up designing the distinctiveness out.  It is sometimes quite baffling!

 


kissestest3

To grow your own distinctive mistletoe plants visit the English Mistletoe Shop and have a look at the Grow-Kits!