UF/IFAS Okeechobee County Extension Service

458 Highway 98 North

Okeechobee, FL 34972-2578

Phone: (863) 763-6469

E- mail: indianco@ufl.edu

December 17, 2003

Feature Article - for release the week of December 21, 2003

Dan Culbert - Extension Horticulture Agent

Kiss Karefully with Mistletoe

Mistletoe has been used as a Yuletide decoration for centuries. The soft leaves of this woody plant, with its dark green, oval shapes and occasional white berries, symbolize peace and love.  Many customs and beliefs have carried over to its use at Christmas time - most notably to encourage passion by way of kissing.  Hanging up a branch with white berries was a subtle challenge to kiss the unsuspecting (or suspecting) individual who stood beneath it.

Use this plant carefully as a holiday decoration - it is poisonous if eaten.  Its danger also extends to the tree host - it robs the tree of water and nutrients and speeds up the decline of older trees. Todayís column looks at these issues, and gives some suggestions on how to harvest, prepare and safely display this Christmas favorite.

Mistletoe is not like typical plants, which obtain support, water and nutrients from the soil in which they grow. Mistletoe is a parasite which lives in the tops of trees. Look for round green branches in treetops - mistletoe is often found in mature laurel or water oaks and other hardwood trees. Along Park Avenue in downtown Okeechobee, there are several oaks that are now showing this unusual plant.

The "roots" of mistletoe penetrate the treeís bark and enter the wood of a tree. After established, mistletoe grows very quickly and can live for about ten years.  Eventually the host tree is weakened and can decline in health.  Pruning mistletoe branches from mature trees may reduce this drain on the host oak.  Be sure to make the pruning cut at least six inches below the point of attachment

The appearance of these green plants growing on dormant trees was certainly noted by ancient peoples, and magical powers were associated with mistletoe.  It was considered the plant of peace, and enemies met under it and reconciled their differences

Today, mistletoe remains a desirable decoration of the holiday season.  Most people think of its attractive white berries and evergreen foliage in this decorating context and are surprised to hear that it is harmful to trees.  Floridians can combine holiday decoration activity with maintaining tree health.  Mistletoe harvested for the holiday season can reduce the amount in landscape trees. I prefer to use a pruning pole to remove this plant from trees, while in rural areas others have resorted to carefully shooting off the topmost mistletoe branches.

Fresh cut sprigs can be keep longer under refrigeration before being prepared for decorative use.  Using thin wire to wrap the ends of short cuttings, a bunch can be finished  off with a red ribbon, and is ready to hang over a door way.  Mist your mistletoe daily to keep it fresh looking.  Do not place it directly above a heater, stove, fireplace, or where there is dry heat. This will cause it to dry up much more quickly.

Although mistletoe is associated with many ancient beliefs and medicinal virtues, current research has not shown if the plant has dependable therapeutic value.  It is best to have a healthy regard for the plant's known toxic potential. That may mean that in homes with curious pets or young children that a plastic or fabric replica may be a safer way to enjoy Mistletoe at Christmas.

Step-by-step instructions on how to assemble a holiday mistletoe bouquet decoration are posted below.  If you need additional information on mistletoe, call or stop by our office at 458 Hwy 98 North in Okeechobee.  Our phone number is (863) 763-6469 and you can email us at okeechobee@ufl.edu.  Happy Holidays!


Trade names, where used, are given for the purpose of providing specific information. They do not constitute an endorsement or guarantee of products named, nor does it imply criticism of products not named. The Florida Cooperative Extension Service - Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer authorized to provide research, educational information, and other services to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap, or national origin. Florida Cooperative Extension Service / IFAS /University of Florida.

Make your own mistletoe holiday decoration as follows:

A large branch of mistletoe can make many decorative sprigs.  


Cut into leafy stems 8 - 12 inches. long.

Choose 2-4 choice stems for each bundle.


Three branches clustered together.


Use thin (florist) to wrap the ends together - keep them tight!



Use a heavy wire to make a hanging hook if no wall hook or nail is available to hang the finished product.


Cut  a 12 inch length of ribbon.

Self curling ribbon works well.


Tie ribbon in center of stems.



Add another ribbon if desired!


Culbert, Daniel F. "Mistletoe for the Holidays". Vero Beach Press Journal, December 18. 1994.

ibid. "Holidays are Sealed with Mistletoe." Okeechobee: UF/IFAS Extension Service, 12/20/2006 http://okeechobee.ifas.ufl.edu/News%20columns/mistletoe.htm 

Geils, Brian. The Mistletoe Center. Flagstaff: Rocky Mountain Research Station, December, 2001. http://www.rms.nau.edu/mistletoe/ .

Sawyer, John H. "Mistletoe, Friend or Foe". Dr. Bobís Gardening Tips. Gainesville: UF/IFAS Extension Service, November 10, 1997.  http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/gt/mistletoe/mistletoe.htm

Suszynski, Barbara. How Mistletoe Works. 2003. http://people.howstuffworks.com/mistletoe1.htm

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