Mistletoe in Florida

By Wayne Hobbs, Horticultural Agent
Posted 12/13/17

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Christmas songs revel in the ideas of open fires, snowmen, and winter weather, all things that are not usually a scene during Florida’s warm winters. However, one …

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Mistletoe in Florida


GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Christmas songs revel in the ideas of open fires, snowmen, and winter weather, all things that are not usually a scene during Florida’s warm winters. However, one somewhat surprising part of the holiday tradition is Mistletoe, which is actually quite common in Florida forests and landscapes.

Cultural Importance

The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe originates with the English and French but is actually more associated with New Year’s than Christmas. Before the adoption of their beliefs, Celtic Druids believed the plant to be holy due to how it grows higher than other plants and was a sign of the return of spring, while Scandinavian cultures saw it as a symbol of peace.

More About Mistletoe

Outside of its romanticized history and foothold as part of the holiday lexicon, the truth is that mistletoe is a poisonous and parasitic plant.

Growing only in deciduous trees, you may find this plant in Laurel Oaks, Sycamores, Elms and Black Cherry in Clay County. Look up in the canopy of the tree for clusters of small green leaves that seem to grow directly from the trunk. To grow at these heights, the seeds of the plant germinate and send roots into the tree, feeding off the nutrients and water provided by its host. Being a green plant, mistletoe does produce its own food, but the lost resources can put a strain on the tree, especially if it is already diseased or damaged.

To control this pest, prune the infected branch out of the tree but be careful with the heights you may have to reach and be sure to wear head and eye protection. Make this cut at least 12 inches below where the stem of the parasite enters the host. When handling the plants, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water as they are highly poisonous if ingested.

The chemical Ethepon can slow the growth of the plant, but it can only be applied by a licensed pesticide applicator when the host tree is dormant.

Deadly Decorations

The good thing about removing this pest from trees is that when you are done, you can make decorations, which is very unlikely with fungi or insects. To keep cuttings fresh, you can put them in the refrigerator until you are ready to bind them together with florist wire. You can arrange them as flat sprays, balls of foliage, or as bunches and then decorate with ribbons or other varieties of greens.

If you decorate with mistletoe in your home, be careful. Between 1985 and 1992, there were more than 1,700 accidental mistletoe poisoning cases in the United States so keep it out of reach of children or pets. Also, you should keep the decorations away from heat sources as they will dry out quicker and can become a fire hazard.

So, this holiday season (with proper caution) you can ask your sweetheart to kiss you under the parasite.

If you have any more questions about horticulture, any other landscape topics, or need plant or pest materials identified, contact the University of Florida/IFAS Extension Office online at http://www.clay.ifas.ufl.edu, follow us on Facebook, or call by phone at (904) 284-6355.


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