More than you want to know about mistletoe

Dec. 24, 2011 at 3:05 PM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 24 (UPI) -- Most people know if they are caught under the mistletoe to kiss the person next to them, but many don't know it grows from bird droppings, a U.S. botanist says.

Sylvia Orli of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington said the word mistletoe is from the Anglo-Saxon word "mist" or "mistel," meaning dung, and "tan," meaning twig, or "dung twig," because mistletoe is mostly spread by birds through their droppings.

The plant, found mainly in tropical or temperate areas, is a species of parasitic plants, Orli said.

"Birds also squeeze mistletoe seeds from fruit before eating them and wipe the seeds on a branch," Orli said in a statement. "Mistletoe seeds are covered in a sticky substance so they stay put on a limb until they sprout."

Mistletoe is semi-parasitic -- meaning it invades a living branch of a host tree or bush with a shallow root and absorbs food, minerals and water and also produces food through photosynthesis in its evergreen leaves.

Mistletoe is considered a pest in many areas of the world and a host tree or bush heavily infested with mistletoe can be stunted or even die. However, mistletoe is a food source and a nesting area for birds, Orli explained.

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