A tale of two mistletoes

There’s a new mistletoe species here at Mistletoe Towers, all the way from Africa originally.  Though this particular set of seeds came from, er, Malvern. 

One seedling germinating
on Euphorbia

It is Viscum minimum, related to our familiar Viscum album, but, as the name suggests, a much reduced plant.  Tiny actually.

I haven’t ever grown it before, though have seen several specimens grown indoors.  For it isn’t an outdoor species, not here in Europe, as its hosts are tropical succulents.   Euphorbias in fact, themselves related to the familiar milky-juiced plants of gardens and woodlands.   In Africa succulent Euphorbias occupy a similar niche to the cacti of North America.  Thick-stemmed, often rounded, plants with minimal leaves, adapted for life in very dry conditions.  They are often mistaken for cacti.

V.minimum, also succulent and minimally-leaved, is a wonderful example of how the mistletoes are adapted to a huge range of hosts.  It lives within the tissue of the Euphorbia, with minuscule succulent leaves of its own, on the host surface.  The biggest features are the flowers, followed by red berries, also close to the host surface.

My plants are, at present, simply germinating seeds, not much to look at yet. Only time will tell if they get established.  So far they look, not surprisingly, very similar to Viscum album seedlings (see pic of one of those on the right).  They are nearly 2 months old now and there are three that look promising.  But none have yet established a hold fast on the host, so nothing is yet certain.

The pictures below show two completely different Euphorbias on which Viscum minimum seeds have been placed.  There are close-ups of the germinating seeds.  Note how much the two Euphorbias have grown in the 2 months I’ve had them.  Much faster growing than cacti.  Though they haven’t been slowed down by the mistletoe yet…

A back garden parasitic plant safari

Parasites in lockdown – a round-up of the parasitic plants I’m growing in our garden this year, so far: Not just mistletoe, but also dodders (two species), broomrape (one species – another due soon) and yellow rattle. And an aspiration for Lousewort and a hope of Toothworts (two).

mistletoe shoots 2020Firstly mistletoe, obviously. There’s lots of that (I wonder why?!). These are young growths, about 4 or 5 years old, planted by Blackcaps on an already mistletoe-laden apple. Looking particularly splendid at the moment with the new lighter-green shoots and leaves.

yellow rattle young shoots 2020A bit more down to earth – Yellow Rattle, Rhinanthus minor, a root parasite of grasses, growing here in a pot amongst greater quaking grass Briza maxima. Yellow Rattle is, like mistletoe, only a hemi-parasite as it has its own green leaves, linking, in this case, to the host grasses via the roots. Pretty flowers in summer – these are only young shoots.

orobanche shoots 2020 aVery down to earth – emerging flowering shoots of Ivy Broomrape, Orobanche hederae, at the base of some ivy in a pot. It’s a full parasite – no chlorophyll of its own – that parasitises ivy roots.  Fairly easy to grow – I’ve been growing this for many years now – but unpredictable year to year – these are the only visible shoots from several previous locations (and ivy-filled pots) round the garden that we have this year. They’ll be 6 inches or more high when they’ve fully grown – unless the slugs and snails get to them first. Which they sometimes do.  Will be trying some more Orobanches later this year…

nettle dodder 2020Up in the air again – this is Greater Dodder, Cuscuta europaea, which parasitises nettle stems by winding round them and linking into the host vascular system. No leaves, so these are fully parasitic, unlike mistletoe. They germinate in soil but become detached from the ground once they’ve reached a host stem. Nettle is the nominal host but they will twirl and link to any plant within reach later on – they seem to really like the Epilobium stem nearby (see pic). This is my second season of growing these – including on the stingless form of stinging nettle, Urtica dioica subsp. galeopsifolia, which is slightly more garden- and human- friendly.

gorse dodder shoots 2020And, a first for us for 2020, another dodder – Cuscuta epithymum – smaller than the nettle one but more familiar to most as the pink stems that festoon and parastise gorse on moorland in the summer. These are, so far, tiny seedlings from seed I (and John Hollier) gathered in north Devon last summer. I’m trying them in pots of gorse – only a few have reached the host stems so far, and where they have done this the tiny white and yellow parasite seedlings are just beginning to grasp the hosts. They’re a long way from those massive pink growths of late summer.

lousewort 2020And, to represent some missing parasites, here’s a pic of some rather dry-looking Lousewort, Pedicularis sylvatica, taken this week not in the garden but up a hill in West Devon (despite the lockdown – we are allowed a bit of exercise!). It normally likes it marshier than this so it isn’t very happy! A similar concept to Yellow Rattle, parasiting roots.

Hoping to grow this next year – and also hoping to get some progress with the Toothworts – common and purple – neither of which I’ve had success with, yet…