Mistletoe, a Florida Native

Phoradendron spp.


Mistletoe is a plant which does not make all of its own food, but instead sponges off other plants. Mistletoe got its name in the second century, from the Anglo-Saxons. "Mistel" is the word for "dung," and "tan" is the word for "twig" -- misteltan is the Old English version of mistletoe, and this name tells us that mistletoe is named after bird droppings on a branch. One of the beliefs in the early centuries was that mistletoe grew from birds. People used to believe that, rather than just passing through birds in the form of seeds, the mistletoe plant was a result of birds landing in the branches of trees.

The Mistletoe Tradition

Kissing under a sprig of mistletoe has been around for hundreds of years. The proper procedure of kissing under the mistletoe is to take one berry off for every kiss received. When all the berries are gone, so are the kisses.

Mistletoe growing on pine -- Photo credit: USDA Forest Service. Click to enlarge.

Plant Facts:

Common Name:   Mistletoe, American Mistletoe, Leafy Mistletoe, The Vampire Plant, All Heal, Herbe de la Croix, Lignum Sanctae Crucis, Wood of the Sacred Cross

Botanical Name:   Phoradendron spp.

Plant Type:  Semi-Parasitic Perennial

Zones: 8-11

Height:  1.5' to 3' high or wide

Soil Requirements:  None. Mistletoe exists as a Semi-Parasitic Perennial found in hardwood trees, such as oak, hickory, pecan, and mahogany. As mistletoe grows on a tree, it sends out a root-like structure known as a haustoria into tree's bark and takes nutrients from the tree. Sometimes, mistletoe can harm a tree and cause deformities in a tree's branches, but usually it doesn't kill its host. If the host dies, the mistletoe dies. 

Water Requirements: 

Light Requirements: Full sun to part shade

Leaves:  Opposite, oval to lance-shaped, greenish-yellow, leathery leaves to 2" long

Flowers: Small, but showy and colorful depending on species

Fruit: White berries in the fall that contain toxic chemicals poisonous to people and animals (except birds)

Uses:  Holiday decoration, folk ritual, folk medicine

Propagation:  Seeds

Sources: American Horticultural Society A to Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants; Betrock's Florida Plant Guide; New Encyclopedia of Herbs & Their Uses