Mistletoe nonsense 2023 #1: Ideal Home far from ideal

Quite a lot of nonsense written about mistletoe again this season, I never cease to be amazed by how much mis-information there is out there. Though as Roy Vickery, a  plant-lore expert at the Natural History Museum once said in one of his books some years ago; ‘more nonsense has been written about mistletoe than any other plant’ so perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised.

Much of it relates to toxicity, confused understanding of differing mistletoe species (completely different in, say, the USA compared to Europe), accounts of how to grow it (basically by a load of gardeners who should know better, writing and quoting copy and pasted accounts from each other, and none really ever bother to properly find out) and accounts of how much it needs controlling (again, difficult to define – much depends on the species, the geographic location, and the history of management).  But it’s Christmas, and journalists and bloggers and broadcasters write nonsense about everything.

A mistletoe-infected tree, many many more years older than 10-15 years, and set to survive many more yet. And that’s just one example of many many thousands. Ideally Ideal Home would know this, but sadly, they don’t.

Two interesting examples from this month caught my eye this week – and I’ll describe the first one here:  a stunning misinformation special in Ideal Home magazine (their online version, haven’t seen the print version but really hope it’s not in it!). That is a load of mostly utter nonsense, written by ‘creative writer’ Lauren Bradbury – who is, I have to say, stunningly creative, but not in the best way.  She peddles the usual toxicity worry (see multiple previous blogs on the inaccuracies in this, including the blog entry preceding this one) and, more unusually, the ‘danger to the tree’ story. Claiming that it will kill a tree in 10-15 years – a concept which is utterly away with the fairies.  And I should know, having been working with mistletoe for 40 or so years now, including much deliberate planting.  Perhaps Lauren has missed the memo that many people want mistletoe in their trees – and their trees (usually) survive very well indeed!  Most trees with mistletoe on have had it on them for decades, some possibly even a century of more. Yes, it can ultimately kill the tree, but unless it’s a tiny tree it won’t even be a problem for decades and decades, and only then if it overwhelms the tree – which is relatively unusual. And if it does start to happen it can be controlled. Lauren is streets away from actual factual info!  For anyone really interested in control have a look at the information sheet here.

The piece is made worse by her consultation with an ‘expert’; Steve Chilton who runs, er, a garden furniture store.  Not an obvious choice for a mistletoe expert. And sadly he soon demonstrates that he isn’t one, making that clear right away with a suggestion that you should cut mistletoe off your tree with shears! Good luck with that Steve – mistletoe is not a hedge, and  mature mistletoe would easily break most shears. The tools you should be suggesting are hands (to snap it off), secateurs, pruning saws or, for tree-threatening mistletoes, a much bigger saw to take the branch off. He follows the weird shears advice up, in an account that really beggars belief, with these extraordinary words:

It’s really important in this instance to ensure your pruning shears are cleaned after use on the mistletoe-infected branches…   as you don’t want to use diseased or infected shears elsewhere in your garden and spread it further.

The only way mistletoe can spread – by germinating seeds. Not by Steve Chilton’s amazing – but incredibly unlikely – infected shears!

What is Steve on about!? Mistletoe spreads by seed Steve, it’s not like a fungus, or a bacterium infection that can be spread by contact with a bit of old plant tissue. By seeds! In berries! In spring! And by absolutely no other means!! There is no way a garden implement used to cut mistletoe could create more mistletoe growths. His advice suggests an utter failure to understand the situation at all – indeed a failure to understand plants!!  If you want to read how mistletoe actually gets to grow (and that should include you Steve) have a look at this information sheet.

The whole piece is one of the most egregious misinformation accounts I’ve ever seen on mistletoe – and I’ve seen some wildly mad stuff over the years (mentioning no names Monty D!). I suspect Steve, and probably Lauren, have cobbled together their advice from a variety of online sources, including US ones, and have failed utterly to understand mistletoe or the differing types around the world (though none, btw, can be spread by infected shears!).  I would suggest Ideal Home magazine really need to vet their writers for competence!

My second example of recent mistletoe inaccuracy will be in the next blog.