By Lisa D. Mickey

mistletoe on oak trees florida

It’s common to spot mistletoe growing in the tops of trees at this time of year throughout Central Florida and the Southeast.

If you spy a large green plant clump growing amid the boughs of deciduous trees (trees that lose their leaves during the winter months), it is likely mistletoe. American or oak mistletoe (Phorandendron serotinum) grows year-round and commonly may be found in laurel oak trees.

Americans like to hang mistletoe overhead in door jams and perpetuate the notion that kisses are in order for the individual caught standing under the plant snippet, generally decorated with red ribbon around Christmas time. Europeans more commonly associate mistletoe kisses with New Year’s Eve.

According to the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Services (IFAS) office, Celtic Druids “believed that mistletoe was a holy plant because it rooted closer to heaven than any other plant” in that it was found in treetops. Ancient Scandinavians viewed the plant as a “symbol of peace.”

Rural Americans have long used shotguns to shoot mistletoe out of treetops and sell snippets of the plant during the holidays. Some simply use the mistletoe they find to decorate.

Unlike Spanish moss that also may be spotted in Florida treetops, mistletoe – recognizable by its green leaves and stems, and round white berries – is a parasitic plant. It taps into the nutrients and water from its host tree and can even harm the tree if the host plant has been weakened by age, pests or large storms.

If trees in your yard have mistletoe growing in their limbs, you might want to contact a tree-trimming professional for advice about pruning or permanently removing the parasite from your natural landscape.

But if you hope to enjoy a little mistletoe and a few stolen kisses at the stroke of midnight when 2020 mercifully comes to an end, just make sure the bunches of this plant stay up high.

Ingestion of mistletoe can result in accidental poisoning for pets and children, so make sure you start the new year out safely with mistletoe placed securely out of reach, but still hanging in all the right places to only be a kiss away.

lisa@marinediscoverycenter.org