Kissy stuff

DSCN9083Not much is flowering at the moment. Some of the purple Fabaceae are starting to make their move (Common Hovea, Austral Indigo, Native Sarsparella) and on our hill the Drooping Mistletoe (Amyema pendulais) is looking stunning (see picture left).

Mistletoe is the common name applied to a group of parasitic plants that attach themselves to trees and shrubs. Mistletoes are often seen in the bush hanging in large clumps (of a different colour green) from eucalypt trees. The plant is native to Australia, non-poisonous to humans and an important food source and nesting site for birds.

The roots of the mistletoe are adapted to tapping into the host plant to obtain water and minerals. Given that the mistletoe derives some of its own sustenance through photosynthesis, it is regarded as only partially parasitic, or DSCN9196‘hemiparasitic’. Sometimes the mistletoe root system totally takes over the water and mineral supplies of the host plant, resulting in that part of the plant beyond the mistletoe dying (see photo right).

Birds such as the Mistletoebird (Dicaeum hirundinaceum), discussed previously, are important for the plant’s propagation. Such birds eat the mistletoe berries and quickly digest the fruit, then pass the seed out the other end. The seed has a sticky coating that adheres to plants when it has gone through the bird’s gut. It germinates within a few days and the roots begin to penetrate the host plant.

In Europe the mistletoe is a symbol of fertility – because often in winter it is the only leaved plant in a deciduous forest. The tradition is that kissing under such a plant transfers that fertility to the kissees. It is lucky we don’t follow that tradition around here. With so much mistletoe around I’d never get any work done.


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