Marvelous Mistletoe


Mistletoe in Georgia's Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

This New Year’s Eve, as you’re snuggling up to a loved one beneath a sprig of mistletoe, spare a moment to consider the festive plant’s role in the wild.

Many Kinds of Mistletoe

The mistletoe we usually see used in holiday decorations is native to and grows mostly in Great Britain and some other European countries. Several species of mistletoe also grow here in North America, including the dwarf mistletoe which happens to be the preferred place for northern spotted owl to roost and nest.

Northern spotted owl

Northern spotted owls prefer to nest in clumps of dwarf mistletoe

Mistletoe grows attached to the branches of trees and shrubs, drawing nutrients directly from its hosts. Mistletoe is often considered merely a pest that may harm its unfortunate hosts. But in 2001, an associate professor at Charles Sturt University, David Watson, published a paper demonstrating that mistletoe is actually good for biodiversity. It turns out that mistletoe provides food and shelter for a wide array of wildlife, and therefore, areas with greater amounts of mistletoe can sustain a higher diversity of birds and other animals.

So while a mistletoe decoration can bring two people together in a kiss, in the wild it helps to bring nesting birds, grazing antelope and deer, and many other animals together. Now that’s one hospitable plant!