It's interesting finding out where does mistletoe grow, as well as its habits. This hemi-parasitic plant has an ancient history dating back to before the common era. In the plant kingdom, parasitic plants evolved only nine times, with mistletoe being one of the parasitic plant species. Parasitic plants require a host. Mistletoe plants are most familiar to people as something fun to hang under a doorway at Christmas to gather kisses from family, friends, and loved ones. Mistletoe itself is a fascinating plant with a long and distinguished history in folklore, herbal medicine, and modern medicine.
Where Does Mistletoe Grow
In the wild, mistletoe may be found in Europe, as well as North America. However the types of mistletoe and their uses vary widely depending on where mistletoe may be found.
North American Mistletoe
North American mistletoe is a different species than European mistletoe. Its botanical genus is Phoradendron and is very distantly related to sandalwood. North American mistletoe is classified as a woody shrub, and has green, oval-shaped leaves about three to four inches long. The flowers are small and white to greenish white. Once pollinated, the flowers mature into the traditional berries you may think of when you think of mistletoe. Berries of the North American mistletoe can be red, orange, yellow and white. Many species of North American mistletoe are poisonous to humans, but birds love them. In the fall, you might catch birds feasting on mistletoe berries. They use their beaks to pick open the berries and extract the seeds from the sticky juice, often pausing to wipe their beaks on the host tree or nearby leaves.
According to the USDA Mistletoe Center, two species of mistletoe are the most common in North America. A dwarf variety, Arceuthobium, and the typical Phoradendron may be found growing among woody forest trees. If you're in northern California, you may also spot some of the European mistletoe, Viscum alba, but these are unusual. They crept into the area on apple tree stock imported from Europe, but haven't spread much beyond a small area in California.
North American mistletoe prefers hardwood forests, with some species growing on only one type of tree or shrub and others being less choosy. They will grow on conifers and deciduous trees and shrubs, depending on the species. Mistletoe spreads through bird droppings, with the birds consuming the berries and leaving the seeds behind in their waste.
As mentioned previously, North American mistletoe leaves and berries may be toxic to humans as well as animals. In some states, cattle have been poisoned by eating mistletoe. Harvest any wild mistletoe for use as a Christmas decoration only.
European mistletoe also grows on trees and shrubs throughout Europe and some parts of Asia. European mistletoe (Viscum album) grows on many types of trees, and can be recognized by its long stems and oval-shaped leaves. Berries of the European mistletoe are always white or yellow, and never red. Like the North American mistletoe, birds enjoy the berries and seeds. Unlike the North American mistletoe, herbalists use European mistletoe in extracts for its healing properties.
Herbal Uses of Mistletoe Extract
The best-known modern medicinal use of mistletoe is as a cancer treatment agent. A large-scale study using mistletoe extract is currently underway to assess its usefulness in battling cancer. Researchers are assessing the value of the European mistletoe to battle cancer. The study is currently in its preliminary stages, but other studies conducted in Europe point to the promise of using this ancient herb as a cancer treatment.