It starts with a kiss
Tapinanthus oleifolius, aka mistletoe (voëlent) is one of the best-known evergreen half-parasitic shrubs growing on other trees and shrubs. The sticky seeds are deposited by birds on the bark of branches where they germinate rapidly. The developing plant attaches itself to the host by means of a specialized root-like structure.
The fallen flowers and fruits disclose its presence. It is best observed in winter in the drier parts of southern Africa when trees have few or no leaves. Mistletoe grows on diverse hosts such as Acacia, Aloe, Combretum, Rhus and Ziziphus.
The elliptic leaves resemble those of the olive; hence the name of the species: olei – meaning of the olive, and –folius meaning leaved. The closed red flowers look like a bundle of vertical matches: red with a whitish tip, and the common name is vuurhoutjie or lighting match. The Afrikaans name voëlent refers to its method of seed dispersal by birds that wipe their beaks on branches or deposit mistletoe faeces on tree limbs.
Mistletoe steals nutrients and water from the host tree by sending out root-type organs, into the branches. This doesn’t harm the tree much unless there are many mistletoes, but the production of the tree can be hindered. Orchard situations are especially sensitive to the presence of the parasite as it can minimize fruit yield.
Remove mistletoe by cutting back the twigs and leaves with a sharp, disinfected pruning shear. However, the roots can be persistent, and the plant may simply grow back. Ensure that all roots are removed and then seal the wounds with Efekto’s Steriseal to prevent re-sprouting.
If left unchecked, the parasite can cause die-back of tree limbs and occasionally the death of a tree, especially in drought conditions. Using a herbicide will not be effective and might harm the host tree.
As mistletoe is one of the few plants to flower in winter, it is extremely valuable in the ecosystem as a provider of nectar. Giraffes benefit from its high protein content and farmers collect fresh mistletoe for livestock during times of drought.
Ferreira’s Garden Centre
Cell: 081 124 0288