Spotlight on... Mistletoe

Mistletoe (Viscum album)

What is mistletoe?

Viscum album is a perennial evergreen plant which forms clumps in the branches of trees and shrubs. Being hemi-parasitic, this species can produce some of its own food through photosynthesis but obtains its mineral and water requirements from the host tree. The fruit, which is a waxy white berry, only appears on the female plant. The seeds inside are covered in a sticky substance which can stick to the beaks of birds eating the fruit. This seed can then be transferred to another tree by the bird wiping the berry off on a branch. Another method of delivery is via a bird consuming the berry and then excreting it onto another tree.

Where is mistletoe?

Ben Carpenter has been recording the location of mistletoe in Oxfordshire, and just over the county boundary into Berkshire, since 2014 and has thus far found approximately 3,000 trees supporting mistletoe (with approximately 16,700 clumps counted). These records, along with TVERC’s database, show that mistletoe is found mostly in the southern half of Oxfordshire and into Berkshire (see map below), and is particularly prevalent in south-east Oxfordshire. However, are there mistletoe records missing from this map? We need your sightings to fill in any gaps!

Have you seen any mistletoe?

Winter is the ideal time to spot mistletoe due to the lack of foliage on the host tree species. If you spot any wildlife when you’re out and about, share your records and photos with TVERC. By letting TVERC know what you have seen you will help protect and improve your local environment by increasing the quality and quantity of data we hold.

Identification help

Mistletoe is relatively easy to find on the branches of trees; nevertheless, from a distance, this species can be confused with other natural features such as witches’ broom, rooks’ nests and squirrels’ dreys. In Oxfordshire it is found, in approximate descending order of frequency, in lime, poplar, apple, hawthorn, weeping willow, rowan, and false acacia. It can be found particularly in orchards, parkland, gardens and cemeteries/churchyards.

Where should we direct our spotlight next?

If you are a recorder, a local recording group or just have an interest in a species, send us your suggestion for a species, along with some facts and a photo (if possible) to tverc@oxfordshire.gov.uk.