The other day I helped my Mum cut a big bunch of mistletoe for some decorations she was making. I love mistletoe. It’s so…weird. We’re really lucky to have two old apple trees with huge bunches of mistletoe hanging from them. The yellow-green male plants look like seaweed stranded in the branches, while the female plants are covered in sticky, white berries. As far as I know, there’s only one native UK species – the European white-berried mistletoe, or Viscum album. It grows mainly in the south-west of the UK, but I’ve been told that mistletoe is also fairly common in this part of Suffolk, thanks perhaps to a long history of orchards (apple trees seem to be a favourite spot for mistletoe plants). Many Suffolk orchards have been lost in the last few decades, so we’re lucky to have three creaky old apple trees still surviving from an old orchard planted near the house. The previous owners began replanting the apple trees, something that we’re continuing to do.
Mistletoe draws its water from the host tree. The two plants can live in balance for many years, but the mistletoe may eventually weaken the host significantly, if it grows too big. And herein lies the problem. I’ve noticed tiny mistletoe seedlings (is that the right word?) in my favourite apple tree, a Blenheim Orange that is about 10 years old. The two old apple trees with large bunches of mistletoe on are clearly dying (apple trees don’t live that long.) When they go, I guess we’ll lose the mistletoe as well. So I’m really happy to see the tiny mistletoe plants taking hold on a much younger tree – but I don’t want that tree to be swamped in turn. I guess one solution is to keep the mistletoe to a manageable size as it grows, living in balance with its host tree. But I’ve no idea what the right balance is – and there is not much info around on the subject of pruning mistletoe! So as an insurance policy, we’re going to plant another Blenheim Orange apple tree. Then hopefully our little orchard will have delicious apples as well as magical mistletoe for years to come.