Mistletoe is a plant that reminds of the holidays, but it is a parasitic plant that can kill our plants.
There are two major types of mistletoe found in the Antelope Valley. The most common mistletoe found in the Antelope Valley is dwarf mistletoe. Dwarf mistletoe is a very small orangish-yellow stem with no noticeable leaves. The leaves are actually small scales on the side of the stems. Dwarf mistletoe is normally seen as a swelling of a branch on the host plant. Dwarf mistletoe is commonly found growing in the native junipers around the Antelope Valley. Occasionally we find it growing
in apple trees.
As you move up to the sides of the Antelope Valley is the other type of mistletoe, called broadleaf mistletoe. It is the mistletoe that you think of when someone says mistletoe, or the mistletoe associated with the holidays. There are several different species of broadleaf mistletoe, and they can attack, alder, apple, aristocrat pear, ash, birch, cottonwood, locust, walnut and zelkova.
Birds carry the seeds from the mistletoe plant; the seeds then stick to branches of host trees. These seeds germinate and instead of growing into the soil, they send their roots into the branch, where the roots take water and nutrients from the host plant instead of the soil. This will stress the tree. If enough mistletoe starts growing in the tree, it will eventually kill the tree.
The best way to controlling mistletoe is to plant trees that are resistant to mistletoe. Do not plant ashes, including Modesto ash, if you live in areas where broadleaf mistletoe
If your tree has a small clump of mistletoe, and it is possible, remove the entire branch from your tree. Remove the branch at least a foot below the mistletoe and cut back to another branch. This keeps the structure of the tree. If you do not remove a least a foot below the mistletoe, you may leave roots inside the branch that can sprout and start growing again.
If the outbreak of mistletoe is on a big branch that you do not want to remove from the tree, then you should cut back the mistletoe flush to the branch. Then wrap the entire area several times with black plastic. Black garbage bags or a sheet of black plastic will work. Tie the ends of with twine or tape. I find that several wraps of duct tape are the best to
seal the ends.
This large black bandage may look bad, but it will kill the mistletoe. Mistletoe requires sunlight and the black plastic prevents sunlight. The plastic needs to stay on for at least two years to be affective.
The least you should do is to cut back the mistletoe flush to the branch every year. This will prevent the mistletoe from producing flowers and new seeds. Without seeds, it cannot spread into new parts of the same tree or into new trees.
Another parasitic plant found in the Antelope Valley is dodder. It can become a real problem.
Dodder starts as a seed, but when it germinates the stems climbs up a nearby plant, it then sends out little suckers into the tissue of the host plant and lives on the sap of the host plant. Once the dodder is attached to the host plant it drops its roots and becomes a true parasite.
If you see dodder, you will know it — it looks like bright yellow or orange nylon string or netting wrapped all through the plant. The first time I saw dodder, I thought a trucker had lost their orange nylon rope.
Dodder is very common in the Antelope Valley and there are large patches on Columbia Way (Avenue M) and the Antelope Valley Freeway. Dodder seems to attack the native scotch broom and other
Once dodder attaches to a plant, about all you can do is remove the host plant or at least the part of the plant the dodder has attached itself to. If you find dodder plants germinating, try to cultivate the plant before it attaches to the host plant.