Kissing under a parasite?

Published 12:01 am Monday, December 24, 2007

NATCHEZ — In the minds of many, nothing says “Christmas romance” like a sprig of parasitic Phoradendron.

Mistletoe, the plant that has inspired many a late-night holiday smooch, is not as highly regarded among foresters as those who may aspire to placing puckered orbs against puckered orbs.

When not dangling from a yuletide doorway, the parasitic plant — considered by some foresters to actually be a disease — leeches off of trees for support.

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“It gets on the tree and kind of seeps through the bark into the live tree, and that is how it gets its nutrients to grow,” extension service agent David Carter said.

But having the plant in a tree is mostly just a nuisance.

“It doesn’t affect the tree at all,” Carter said.

While the plant may get in the way of harvesters, it won’t likely cover the whole tree, and doesn’t have a large presence in the local softwood industry, Carter said.

“You don’t usually see it in pine trees,” he said.

And while its berries may be tasty and even nutritious to certain bird and mammal species, humans need beware of mistletoe’s bold-colored fruits.

“They are toxic for people,” Carter said.

Nonetheless, even though it may be toxic, the paradoxical parasite isn’t all evil, Carter said.

“It has been found to help out with a bunch of diseases,” he said.