Sunday, December 4, 2011

Missing Mistletoe

A friend and I got together about 10 days ago to plan a garden club program.  Our objective was to lead our fellow club members in making kissing balls.  Neither of us had ever made one, but we had done our research and she had begun gathering some supplies for the project.  We divided up the chores and supply list, pleased that we were well on our way in preparations.

At the top of my list was gathering fresh greenery, especially mistletoe.  After all, it wouldn’t be a kissing ball without mistletoe.  There has always been lots of mistletoe here at Kalorama.  Some of the water oaks have so much that it they hardly appear to loose their leaves in winter.  At least, that’s the way it was a few years ago.  When I began looking for some that I could reach, I realized that there was none, and I couldn’t remember when I had last seen it in the trees.  Several years back, it seems.  I looked more thoroughly, especially in specific trees that I recalled hosting it.  I found one dead, brown clump in the elm tree beside the Visitors Center and no evidence of any elsewhere.  Now when I say there has always been lots of mistletoe here, I am not kidding.  I recall a sprig growing out of a poison ivy vine that was growing up a pine tree about 10 years ago.  It didn’t survive more than a year.  Guess it has low tolerance for poison ivy.  Oh, and the mistletoe itself is very poisonous.

Mistletoe is a parasitic plant spread by birds.  The pearly white berries consist of a substance that hardens like cement.  The birds eat them and then wipe their bills on the limbs they are perched on or poop them out on the tree.  The seeds are then cemented to the bark, where they sprout and send their roots into the live tree.  Occasionally you may find it on your car.  When you do, it will take a razor blade to shave it off.  It is very popular with Cedar Waxwings and Robins; two species with the habit of traveling in flocks devouring every berry in site.  Rarely do you see a single clump of mistletoe.  A lot of seed gets “processed” and planted by those guys.

Back to the search for some mistletoe.  I began studying the trees in earnest as I drove around running errands.  I rode shotgun on a trip along La. Hwy.2 from Bastrop to Homer last week, checking out the trees along the way.  No mistletoe.  Then I rode from Monroe to Shreveport along Interstate 20, watching for mistletoe in the trees along the way.  Still no mistletoe.  This morning, on the way home from church, I spotted several clumps in a single ornamental sugar maple tree in a yard in Bastrop.  I checked all the trees nearby, but there wasn’t any more.

I don’t know why it has disappeared.  The horrible hot dry summer of 2011 is not likely the culprit.  I think it has been gone longer than that. I am going to keep scanning the treetops, looking for mistletoe.

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