On a walk along the Grantham canal through Redmile in the Vale of Belvoir, we spotted this very distinctive shape in a tree growing somewhere in the village – sadly it looked to be on private property. The photograph is terrible but this is mistletoe, a very common species in the south and west of the country but not something I have ever seen around Grantham before – the populations along the main road running through Burton Joyce was the closest colony I was aware of.
Mistletoe – latin name Viscum album is a hemi-parasitic plant, a half parasite if you will. Unlike some parasites, it does some of the work for itself, hence the green pigmentation of the chlorophyll. It does however take a range of other nutrients from the tree it is growing upon although they are unlikely to do damage to an established tree. The common name gives a clue about its mode of establishment – ‘mistle’ derives from the Anglo-Saxon word for dung and ‘tan’ derives from the word for twig* . Birds, most notably the mistle thrush but also species such as the blackcap, eat the berries and excrete them onto the branch afterwards. The seeds germinate here and the distinctive globe of mistletoe develops.
The distribution of mistletoe in the UK is very much to the south and west where it can be very common, particularly favouring apple orchards which has led to the myth that the predominance of orchards in the west country explains the distribution. This is not the case however -apple is one of the most favoured hosts and also happens to be grown in the way which suits mistletoe best – in open spaces rather than denser woodlands. Around 200 tree species can act as hosts however the tolerance of mistletoe for the less optimal ones declines as the suitability of other conditions deteriorate. It is these other conditions – the winter minimum and summer maximum temperatures – which actually limit the plant to a rarity in much of the country*. The mistletoe likes true seasons, cold winrers and hot summers as well as humid springs to germinate.
This awful quality photograoh is not the only record of mistletoe in the area fortunately, this website has photographs of a number of other specimens in the area, noteably in Bottesford only a few miles away. Why they have developed here and where the population origionated from, I do not know. But it is a lovely sight – this time of year is ideal to get out and spot them but hurry, it won’t be long until they’re lost amongst the leaves of their hosts!