Mistletoes are semiparasitic plants with green leaves or stems that photosynthesise but rely on a host tree or shrub for water and nutrients.
Nine native mistletoe species
Three species are found mainly in beech forest:
- Red mistletoe (Peraxilla tetrapetala)
- Scarlet mistletoe (P. colensoi),
- Yellow mistletoe (Alepis flavida).
Five species are in lowland forest and scrub:
- Small-flowered mistletoe (Ileostylus micranthus),
- White white mistletoe (Tupeia antarctica)
- Three dwarf or leafless mistletoes (Korthalsella salicornioides, K.lindsayi and K. clavata)
One species (Trilepedia adamsii or Adams’s mistletoe) is presumed extinct - it was last seen in 1954.
Native mistletoe populations have declined since the early 1900s mainly due to possums, vegetation clearance, and the decline in native bird species that act as pollinators and seed-dispersers.
Rats are also suspected of eating mistletoe, and insects damage them.
If this decline continues, more local populations may disappear and, in the long term, species could go extinct nationwide.
Close up of mistletoe
DOC has done surveys to find out more about where mistletoes grow and the number of plants out there. Host trees supporting red, scarlet and white mistletoes have been banded to protect them from browsing possums.
Possum control is carried out to allow the mistletoes to flower and fruit. Some key mistletoe sites have physical and legal protection.
DOC has experimented with translocating mistletoes to new sites. This involved "planting" mistletoe seed on potential hosts. It has been successful with red mistletoe and small-flowered mistletoe, and may be one way of ensuring mistletoe survival.
We have prepared a national recovery plan to coordinate conservation efforts and to ensure the long term survival of mistletoes throughout New Zealand.
You can help
Help us to protect mistletoes on your property.
- Be careful not to disturb mistletoes, their host trees or habitats when clearing or trimming vegetation.
- Wrap aluminium bands around host tree trunks to prevent possum browse (not too tight as that will strangle the tree).
- Control possums, rats, and mustelids. This helps native bird populations, that are crucial in dispersing mistletoe seed.
- Don't pick mistletoes.
- Report any sightings of mistletoes to your nearest DOC office. Green and dwarf mistletoes are obvious throughout the year, while the beech mistletoes tend to stand out during summer when they are flowering.
Mistletoes in Wellington Conservancy: Current status and management requirements 2001 (PDF, 1958K)
The report aims to raise awareness of the indigenous mistletoes of the Wellington region and focus attention on sites that support them. It describes some of the key actions required to protect mistletoes in the wild, and explains how people can assist with gathering information about mistletoe distribution for inclusion on the Department of Conservation's plant database.
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