Welcome to the Mistletoe League

What is the Mistletoe League Project?

A survey about mistletoe (a parasite of tree branches) on fruit trees, aiming to gather useful information on management practice and attitudes, the harvest, and on any varietal preference. The project is primarily about fruit trees in orchards and gardens rather than mistletoe in the wider enviroment and on other host trees - but there is a section (Part 3) that is collecting information on non-fruit tree hosts.

Quick links: (please read the background information before taking part!)

Background: 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 too, but it is only usually harvested from frut trees, as the 'crop' is easily reached in these. Mistletoe is, and probably always will be, fairly common on other hosts (limes, poplars, willows, hawthorns) in the wider countryside in its natural area, but it is difficult to crop from those hosts.

The problems, as currently perceived: Several problems seem to be arising for mistletoe because of this fruit tree association. Firstly, the huge, and continuing, loss of traditional orchards in recent decades must be reducing opportunities for cropping mistletoe, and reducing the harvest long-term. But how significant is this problem? We have no figures for mistletoe trading, and no way to tell whether the threat is really becoming critical yet, and if not yet, when it will be.

An overgrown apple tree - looks romantic...Secondly, the decline in economic value for the remaining traditional orchards means that many are significantly neglected.

The fruit crop is often left on the ground in these 'remnant' orchards and the trees left unpruned.

Same tree later same summer - looks a bit stressedA side-effect of this, in mistletoe's core growing areas. is (ironically) a glut of mistletoe. Fruit trees, particularly apple, in the neglected orchards of this area often develop huge growths of mistletoe - far too prolific for the tree to support, and leading to premature death of both tree and mistletoe.

In the short to medium-term there might seem to be plenty of mistletoe in these situations, but it is clearly not sustainable.

Same tree in early autumn - actually dying, mistletoe and allBut, as with the first problem, no data exist to measure this problem. A key unknown is how the owners and managers of these orchards perceive the mistletoe - do they understand the issue, are they acting on it, do they know what to do, if not why not, is it simply to do with economics and manpower, and so on.

Not just orchards - garden trees too: The management issue also arises in gardens with mistletoe, where it is not unusual to see an apple tree festooned with abundant mistletoe, of which many gardeners are very proud. But the amount can quickly become unsustainable and it is not unusual to hear of prized mistletoe trees suddenly dying, or falling in winter storms. But most information is anecdotal - is this a real problem or not?

Management guidance and varietal preferences: The League Project is also aiming to gain information on varietal preferences. In some core area orchards 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 above, there are currently no data, and it would clearly be useful to have some.

A project in several parts:

The Mistletoe League Project aims to gather information on all these issues, possibly over a number of years, starting with the winter of 2011/12.

The fruit tree part of the project has been split into two parts, and there is a third part for mistletoe on non-fruit trees:

  • Part 1 is a questionnaire for fruit tree managers who deal with mistletoe (1a is for orchard managers, 1b is for gardeners)
  • Part 2 aims to gather information on varietal preferences - the start of a mistletoe league table.
  • Part 3 simply gathers general observations on mistletoe - on hosts other than fruit trees.