Finding the perfect tree for your yard isn't always as easy as it seems. For example, do you want to plant a mistletoe tree in your garden but don't know if there's room? How big do mistletoe trees typically become? Do these trees need lots of space to flourish?
Well, we've done some research and have the answers to these questions.
Since there are nearly 1,500 mistletoe species recognized worldwide, every tree will be different. The range in height/size for mistletoe trees can be anywhere from a few feet to over 36 from the ground, so the variety you choose can make a difference.
You also want to remember that mistletoe isn't technically a tree but a hemiparasitic plant that latches onto existing shrubs and trees. So, if you grow it on a larger tree or shrub, it can get as big as its host plant allows.
As we start this post, we will cover all things growing mistletoe and discuss how big your tree should become. Whether you're looking for a new plant for your landscape, have a mistletoe tree planted, or need other advice, we're here to help. With that said, let's dive right into this topic below!
How Big Do Most Mistletoe Trees Get?
Most times, a mistletoe tree will stay pretty small. Since mistletoe is a hemiparasitic plant that attaches itself to other shrubs and trees, the final size can vary by the species it joins.
According to the USGS, Phoradendron serotinum, also known as American mistletoe, typically grows in oak trees, which reach nearly 50-70 feet once mature.
Therefore, your mistletoe will technically latch on and spread throughout, creating a mistletoe tree. The same applies to smaller trees and shrubs, so as long as your mistletoe has somewhere to hold on to, you'll likely be able to see it grow.
In addition, two main types of mistletoe grow in the United States: the leafy American mistletoe and the mostly leafless dwarf mistletoe.
Of the two, the American mistletoe is the more popular variety, often being used for doorways throughout the holiday season. Think of the American leafy variety as the kissing mistletoe and the other dwarf variety as more ornamental.
Are Mistletoe Trees Their Own Species?
No. So, mistletoe all grow as parasites on the branches of trees and shrubs throughout the United States and beyond. Generally, you will find mistletoe in perennial woodsy plants, as they will provide sturdy branches for the mistletoe to latch onto.
An interesting fact about the American mistletoe variety is its scientific name 'Phoradendron,' means "thief of the tree" in Greek. Since mistletoe needs a host to latch onto, they aren't going to grow into a massive shrub or tree on their own.
Sticking to a holiday theme, you can imagine mistletoe as growing ornaments for your existing trees. According to the University of Arizona, mistletoe typically latches onto ash, oaks, cottonwood, willow, junipers, Arizona cypress, mesquite, and hackberry, to name a few.
If you live in Europe, you can see mistletoe latch onto apple trees, poplars, willows, lindens, and hawthorns, so this plant doesn't discriminate.
The key to growing mistletoe trees is providing your plant with a secure place to spread. Even though the mistletoe is more parasitic, it will not usually affect your host plant negatively.
Do Mistletoe Only Grow On Certain Trees?
Yes, although mistletoes grow on endless types of trees, they have their preferences and requirements. As we said above, mistletoe grows on perennial trees and shrubs with sturdy branches.
Specifically, mistle throughout the United States latches onto more than 100 different types of trees, including pecan, hickory, oaks, red maple, and black gum in North Carolina.
Furthermore, mistletoe is a small evergreen shrub that is semi-parasitic to its host plant. It's also worth noting that mistletoe reproduces by seeds, which have adapted to stay in the branches of the host plant.
If you've ever witnessed a mistletoe tree, you can see clumps of mistletoe throughout it. That's because your semi-parasitic shrub is technically living in another tree's branches, so any tree can become a mistletoe.
The idea of growing mistletoe trees can work for almost any garden, making it perfect across the various USDA growing zones. As long as the mistletoe's suckers can attach to the tree: you're in business.
Does Mistletoe Grow Everywhere?
Yes, mistletoe is found throughout the world. Since this plant species is semi-parasitic, it is easier to find in almost any type of landscape.
For example, if you want to transform an oak tree in your garden into a festive mistletoe one, all you need to do is plant your mistletoe on one of the branches or along the base.
Once your mistletoe is on its host tree, it will send out roots that penetrate the tree and eventually start taking some of the tree's nutrients and minerals.
One of the reasons a mistletoe shrub isn't full-blown parasitic is that it can perform photosynthesis on its own. So, even though it latches onto a host, it takes some of its nutrients, water, and minerals: it's not scientifically considered an entirely parasitic species.
On top of that, you can also expect mistletoe to survive in any climate where your host tree survives.
Should I Remove Mistletoe From My Trees?
In general, you don't have to remove mistletoe from trees unless there is an imminent issue with them.
According to the University of California, you want to remove mistletoe before it produces seed and spreads to other limbs or trees if there's a problem.
However, you don't always need to do this if your tree doesn't show health issues. Since mistletoe is semi-parasitic, you shouldn't worry about it overpowering a mature or healthy plant.
With that said, many experts recommend pruning off the sections of your tree where the mistletoe is growing if you need to do this. As noted, mistletoe attaches to the branches with its root suckers, so as long as those are taken off, the mistletoe won't return.
According to Alabama A&M & Auburn Universities, you want to remove at least six inches below the spot the mistletoe branches are growing to eliminate it.
Again, you don't always need to do this, especially if you're trying to grow it. Not all mistletoe will be aggressive or spread to your entire tree, so this can vary.
Can Mistletoe Kill My Tree?
As long as your tree/shrub is healthy, mistletoe should not kill it. However, if an unhealthy tree becomes filled with mistletoe, that is when issues could arise.
Many experts claim that trees infested with mistletoe can become less vigorous, often slowing growth or even becoming stunted. The mistletoe can also make your tree more susceptible to temperature stress, root damage, insect infestation, or disease, which can become deadly fast.
Again, this isn't usually the case for mature, healthy trees, but that's not to say it's impossible. On top of that, mistletoe can sometimes slowly kill a tree or shrub, taking between ten and 15 years.
So, if you notice sections of your tree getting sick without reason, the mistletoe attached to the nearby branches could be the cause.
In that case, you want to remove the mistletoe and avoid placing more shrubs onto your tree.
How Fast Does Mistletoe Spread In A Tree?
Depending on the tree and the mistletoe variety, you could see it spread two or more feet annually. Of course, this will depend on how healthy your host plant is, as the mistletoe will take a portion of its nutrients and minerals.
Mistletoe generally grows very slowly, making it challenging to cultivate more than every year or two.
As we covered before, American leafy mistletoe is used at Christmas time for festivities, so you can certainly grow it on your tree and harvest it during the holidays.
You also want to factor in the climate where you live and grow your mistletoe. The better the weather and the stronger the host plant, the faster your mistletoe will spread and be ready to pluck.
In addition, you can also grow mistletoe on smaller trees and shrubs to control it, so that's an idea for anyone not wanting to use a ladder to remove or tend to their mistletoe.
How Long Does Mistletoe Live On A Tree?
You can usually expect mistletoe to live on a tree for its lifetime. Since these shrubs work closely to parasitic ones, they can live as long as their host supplies them with nutrients.
You also want to remember that mistletoe can perform photosynthesis independently, which means it gets energy from the sun without assistance from the host tree/shrub.
So, in a way, your mistletoe depends on the tree to have refuge but not to survive entirely. You can also focus your mistletoe onto smaller trees or sections of trees to ensure it doesn't overpower them.
For example, if you have mistletoe on an oak tree in your garden that lives hundreds of years, the mistletoe may survive that entire time (and even a short period afterward).
To Wrap It Up
Whether you have a mistletoe tree growing in your garden or want to start one, it's always good to know how this species works. From what we found, mistletoe can latch onto nearly any sturdy tree or shrub, so if you want to start one: your options are limitless.
Furthermore, mistletoe is considered a hemiparasitic plant that attaches itself to other shrubs and trees, so it does have adverse effects if it overpowers the host.
If this happens, your tree could get sick and die, so try and manage how many mistletoe plants sprout throughout your tree.
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