Backyard Buddies
Mistletoe

Photo: Bill & Mark Bell

Mistletoe

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Mistletoe has a bad reputation in Australia as it's a sap sucking plant that requires a host tree, but there are a few reasons to celebrate if you've spotted the bright red, octopus-shaped flowers of the Mistletoe in your area.

Many people assume Mistletoe is an introduced tree, but there are ninety species of Mistletoe in Australia and seventy of these are native.

Many Australian animals will feed on mistletoe. This plant is more nutritious than the trees they live in and the nectar and fruit is loved by native birds such as honeyeaters, lorikeets, bowerbirds, emus and cockatoos, as well as the Mistletoe Bird. If there are Mistletoe in your area, you're likely to spot native birds more often.

Mistletoe Birds are native to Australia and are also called the Australian Flowerpecker. They live all across mainland Australia, wherever the Mistletoe grows. These birds love to eat Mistletoe fruit and are the main distributor of its sticky seeds - which they wipe on tree branches after they've digested them. The seed then germinates in its host tree, which it needs to provide support and water. They are only semi-parasitic plants as they can make their own food.

Mistletoe Birds aren't the only ones who love the Mistletoe. Koalas, sugar gliders and possums also feed on the fruit and bright orangey red flowers.

Koalas, sheep, cattle and insects will all eat the leaves. Over 25 species of butterflies feed on Mistletoes during their caterpillar stage.

Mistletoe is more than a food source - it also provides perfect shelter habitat. Birds often nest in dense, leafy clumps of Mistletoe, which protects them from bad weather and predators.

Mistletoe helps with pest control by attracting insect-eating birds and possums, which eat beetles and insects that chew up gum trees.

Did you know?

Mistletoes are able to mimic the host tree they are living in. Sometimes the mimicry is so close that they are almost impossible to detect.

Tip

Mistletoe helps maintain ecosystems, but can get out of control in areas where land has been widely cleared. You can help bring the Mistletoe back into balance by fencing the host tree from livestock to encourage regeneration and reduce soil compaction, and by planting native plants underneath the host tree to provide habitat for Mistletoe predators. You can also put up nesting boxes to encourage natural animal predators of the Mistletoe such as possums and gliders.

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Photo: OEH