What is the Mistletoe League Project?
The Project gathers information about mistletoe, and mistletoe management, on fruit trees in the UK. The aim is to find out more about;
- how fruit tree mistletoe management is carried out,
- whether the situation is changing and more effort is needed and
- whether some fruit varieties are more susceptible to mistletoe than others
A combined survey project covering all the above was launched in winter 2011/12, with online and paper data collection. Rapid data collection was NOT expected, with the project planning to run over several winters.
Responses in 2011 to 2013 were good (thank you to those who have contributed so far!), but responses were not as numerous as they could be, possibly because of the complexity of the combined questionnaires (and some confused press coverage). So, from 2014/15 onwards, a simplified set of surveys are being launched, aimed particularly at orchard managers in the mistletoe-growing areas of Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Monmouthshire.
The new survey material will be launched in November 2014.
Background information on the main issues is outlined below and via the links above.
Why the name "Mistletoe League"?
The project was initially conceived to assess whether mistletoe growths varied with fruit varieties, particularly apple varieties. Is there more mistletoe on some varieties than on others? The aim was (and is) to produce a League Table of varieties, indicating their relative susceptibility to mistletoe.
But, just before launch, the need to record more about wider mistletoe management issues became more pressing, and so the name, originally intended to be descriptive of the varietal survey, was used for both.
Mistletoe in Fruit Trees
Most mistletoe in the UK (and in other parts of northern Europe) grows on fruit trees, mainly apple, and so it is a particular feature of orchards and gardens. This phenomenon is particularly obvious in orchards in mistletoe's preferred growing area of the English south-west midlands (Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Somerset) and across the Welsh border in lowland Monmouthshire.
For gardens the phenomenon is more widespread - as much mistletoe has become established on garden fruit trees well outside its natural geographic area.
Mistletoe will grow on many other host tree species (e.g. limes, poplars, willows, hawthorns) too, but it only tends to be a problem in smaller trees like fruit trees, where it can grow to dominate every branch and lead to the stunting and premature death of the tree.
But isn't mistletoe rare?
It depends on where you are! In mistletoe's core growing area it remains very common, but in most other parts of the UK it is rare (or sometimes locally common).
For more information on mistletoe hosts, habitats and distribution visit the Mistletoe Pages or download these information sheets:
- No. 1: Mistletoe distribution in the UK
- No. 2: Is mistletoe rare in the UK?
- No. 3: Habitats and Hosts in the UK
Mistletoe Management and Harvest on fruit trees
Fruit trees tend to be relatively small, and so if they host mistletoe some mistletoe management is always needed, sooner or later. This is a particular true of traditional apple orchards in the main mistletoe-growing region - but not usually a problem for traditional orchards outside the region or for modern bush orchards anywhere.
Happily this management need coincides with a traditional mistletoe harvest, again particularly in fruit trees in the main mistletoe region. Mistletoe is in demand in winter, is unreachable in tall hosts such as limes, and so fruit trees of traditional orchards, with their relatively accessible mistletoe, are the obvious source for Christmas 'crop'.
Good harvesting practice is not necessarily the same as good management practice however and this difference, coupled with neglect of older orchards and increased spread of mistletoe within orchards, is leading to management problems.
And it's not just an issue in orchards - garden apple trees with mistletoe need long-term management too.
To visit the management survey project and to see more information on mistletoe management issues please click HERE.
Mistletoe and fruit varieties - which are best/worst?
The League Project aims to gather information on any varietal preferences shown by mistletoe. Which varieties of fruit tree (particularly which varieties of apple) are most susceptible to it?
In some orchards in mistletoe's core growing region it is obvious there is some preference - with mistletoe abundant on some trees but relatively poor on others. Sometimes this can be explained from management history - but sometimes it appears to be related to the fruit variety. Some seem more susceptible, or more resistant, than others.
So, could a Mistletoe League Table be drawn up showing which varieties are best and worst for mistletoe? And could this be used to help manage mistletoe where it is over-abundant, or encourage it where it is scarce? As with the management issue there are currently no data, and it would clearly be useful to have some.