In Australia we have something like 90 species of mistletoe, unlike Europe which has only one (Viscum album), the one with white flower traditionally smooched under at Christmas. But in Australia we don’t have a tradition of kissing under mistletoe, as it’s regarded as a bit of a nuisance plant in some places, killing off garden trees if there are too many on one tree.
I first became aware that we had a local mistletoe when I saw a mistletoe bird (Dicaeum hirundinaceum) in a strange plant, with pretty red and orange flowers, hanging off a bottlebrush in the backyard.
The mistletoe bird eats, among other things, the berries of the mistletoe. The seeds are very sticky, and the bird has to wipe its beak or behind (if the seed has passed through the digestive tract) on a tree branch to get rid of it. Lorikeets and honeyeaters also spread the seeds.
The germinating mistletoe sends out a searching tip, then forms a ‘haustorium’, an attaching organ that taps the water and nutrients of the host plant. The mistletoe does its own photosynthesis, so is considered only semi-parasitic. It will nevertheless die if its host tree dies. There’s a theory that mistletoe attaches to already weakened trees - seems silly if it’s intending to survive.
Some species of mistletoes are very specific about which host plants they choose; others not so much. Some even choose other mistletoes.
I didn’t get a shot of those pretty mistletoe flowers before the bottlebrush died, though. But local botanist Brigitte – she of the many serious botanical expeditions into the serious outback – has kindly given me permission to use some of her many botanical photos. I still don’t have a shot of my local mistletoe, although a neighbour who is a mistletoe enthusiast assures me he has seen more of them on my property.
This mistletoe lives near Southwood National Park in Queensland …The next one (Amyema maidenii) is from the Tanami Road, near the Yuendumu turnoff, Northern Territory – real desert country. Here’s Dendrophthoe acacioides on its host, our native boab (Adansonia gregorii), near Wyndham Port, Western Australia … Here’s the Dendrophthoe acacioides flower … and the fruit … Here’s Lysania subfalcata, 103 km south of Burke, NSW … … and Lysania exocarpi, near Windorah, Queensland … Neighbour Paul also kindly sent me some photos of mistletoe. Here’s a Viscum from family Viscaceae he found as a parasite on another mistletoe (Amyema miquelli) near Chinchilla, Queensland …
Here’s the flower of the plant it was attached to …
Here’s a species of Dendrophthroe he found west of Tenterfield, NSW …
So the sighting of one small bird opened up a whole world of plants I didn’t know much about.
Many thanks to Brigitte and Paul for the use of their photos.