Mistletoe pretty much only gets attention around Christmas. Want proof? Well, an important Australian study on that plant came out in July – but didn’t seem to generate news stories, like this one in the New York Times, until mid-December.
Didn’t know Australia had mistletoe? Neither did I. The Times article says – while it’s typically sparse within forests – mistletoe consists of “1,400 species in five families, [and] lives on every continent except Antarctica”.
Back to the Australian study. Most people who know anything about mistletoe have heard it described as a parasite Not just minor pest, but a tree-killing parasite.
Well, publishing in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Biological Sciences, David M. Watson and Matthew Herring detail how: “Mistletoes (Loranthaceae) provide structural and nutritional resources within canopies, and their pervasive influence on diversity led to their designation as keystone resources.”
Got that? “Parasite” plants can contribute to ecological health too. As the NYT article recounts:
Dr. Watson, known in academic circles as “the mistletoe guy,” had long suspected that his favorite plant was a keystone species, meaning it punches above its weight, ecologically speaking, but even he was unprepared for the results. He had supposed that creatures that fed or nested on mistletoe would be affected by its removal. Instead, he found that the whole woodland community in the mistletoe-free forests declined.
OK, more ecological and scientific details are found within the aforementioned articles. But some readers must be wondering when do we get to the kissing part?
Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year … and let’s hear it for a better appreciation of mistletoe.