Mistletoe rarity, abundance – and media myths

Unsustainable overladen mistletoe crop in remnant old apple orchard on the banks of the Severn

Have been dealing with the usual seasonal flurry of media enquiries about mistletoe abundance, rarity, impacts of apple orchard loss, etc.  Often from fairly uninformed journalists who base their understanding on what they read in, er, the papers…

And so I’m often repeating the same mantra as the last few years (rarely accurately reported in the press) that YES, the mistletoe crop/harvest is threatened (through loss of apple orchards, the main harvesting location) but NO mistletoe as a species is NOT threatened as it lives in many other habitats other than apple orchards and may even be spreading more than it used to.

Plus (but only for those sound-bite speakers who’ve managed to grasp the last two points) I add that the threat to the crop, in apple orchards, whilst ongoing, may be temporarily reversed because some old orchards are unsustainably overladen with far too much mistletoe – so there is, temporarily, a lot about.  That temporary ‘glut’ may last a few years yet, but it is killing the trees concerned, accelerating orchard decline and so the medium-long term prognosis is still bad.

It’s complicated – apparently too complicated for most media writers and broadcasters – which is frustrating.  A lot of journalists this year and last still major on the National Trust story of 2010, which should have focussed attention on the loss of the mistletoe harvest/crop from apple orchards but instead, through some over-enthusiasm by one or two NT staff (plus some Wildlife Trust staff in 2011), became a doom’n’gloom tale of mistletoe ‘about to become extinct in Britain’ – which is just utter nonsense.

So, for those looking for a more informed story I’d suggest a quick read of the info online and in recent publications.

Online:  have a look at the Mistletoe Pages information – specifically:

Or the Mistletoe Matters info sheets

And in publications try the recent (December 2012) mistletoe articles in The Garden (RHS) and The Biologist (Society of Biology) or the October 2011 mistletoe article in British Wildlife.

Hope that clears that up (but I’ll bet it doesn’t…)