Mistletoe Longevity

Off to see my mother today – as it’s her 80th birthday.  So, Happy Birthday Mum!

MtoeatWBankWhat has this got to do with mistletoe?  Well, up until a couple of years ago there was a very old apple tree in her garden, festooned with large mistletoe growths.  It was magnificent – a source of wonder to friends and neighbours, a local landmark (clocked, independently of me, by botanical surveyors in the 1990s national mistletoe survey), a regular supplier of seasonal gifts and, for me, a constant living laboratory where I could see and photograph mistletoe’s life-cycle.

This pic is just a part of it (obviously).

And then it died.  Well, the apple tree died, swiftly followed by the mistletoe.  And the reason it died?  There was too much mistletoe.  I had got too carried away with its longevity (I had known the tree all my 40-something years) and assumed, despite really knowing better, that this mistletoe-laden tree would go on and on.

Toomuch But too much mistletoe, on a small garden apple tree (pic shows a different example), will become a problem.  Not just a problem – it will become life-threatening for the tree – which will become water-stressed in summer, and top-heavy in winter storms. 

The key to mistletoe longevity, just as in human longevity, is active intervention.  Replacement hips, asthma inhalers etc help with the older human generation (80 is ‘young’ these days) – and the mistletoe equivalent?  Just pruning – but regular, and considered, pruning.

Easy!  And yet so difficult.  The old apple orchards of Britain’s mistletoe country are struggling – and many of the oldest ones are overgrown with mistletoe.  Reasons are varied – but include simple, but often benign, neglect.  People don’t seem to understand that they need to manage the mistletoe to sustain both tree and mistletoe.  I’ve discussed this in this blog before – and rather than repeat it all I’ll just add a link to a summary paper I compiled for apple day celebrations back in October.  You can download the pdf here

That’s all for now – but feedback/questions on mistletoe management are always welcome – jonathanbriggs@mistletoe.org.uk

Mistletoe Promotion of the Day – French Mistletoe Management/Harvesting Cards

French1 In Britain mistletoe management in apple orchards has always been an informal thing – you either do it or you don’t.  But over in France there is a long tradition of legally-enforced mistletoe management – and orchard owners were once obliged to cut the mistletoe out each year.  The legal framework for this still exists, and, under legislation passed in 2000, the local prefecture can still issue local mistletoe management orders where deemed necessary.

This picture (click to enlarge) shows mistletoe management activity in Normandy in the 1930s (they boxed it up to sell to us Brits at Christmas) – and is available in greeting card format from the Mistletoe Design Store here, or, if you’re in the US, from Mistletoe Design at CafePress here.