Thursday, 05 December 2019 14:58

Kissing Under the Mistletoe this Christmas

Whilst we may not practice this tradition in Australia, we have all seen enough American TV shows to understand how it works. In fact, in Australia we are more likely to spend our time under a mistletoe branch contemplating how to knock it our rather than who we might bump into there!

They say 12 is the critical number. Any more in a tree and it will begin to die.

Mistletoes are a semi-parasite.  They have chlorophyll in their leaves and can therefore manufacture their own food. However, they need a host to provide it with water and support. Unlike the water efficient Eucalypt who have evolved strategies, such as closing their stomates (or breathing holes) during water stress to reduce moisture loss. Mistletoes have no such water saving strategies, leaving their stomates wide open like a tap draining the trees valuable moisture by evaporation.

Mistletoes, however are not really the villain. Their flowers, fruit, nectar and leaves are all highly nutritious and a wide range of wildlife depends on them, including koalas, sugargliders, possums, birds and insects. Their excessive numbers are the problem and this is indicative of an ecosystem out of balance.

Possums predate on mistletoe flowers and fruit. But with the demise of Silver Wattle, A. dealbata, possum numbers have plummeted. Sliver wattle is the principal food source for possums for the 48 weeks of the year that mistletoe fruit isn't available.

The mistletoe plants are spread by a mistletoe bird.  And Lace Monitors predate on the eggs of these birds. However, foxes predate on lace monitor eggs. Controlling foxes would increase Goanna survival so they could predate mistletoe bird eggs, reducing the spread of the mistletoe plant.

It is a complicated system. But by all adding our small piece to the puzzle – controlling foxes, planting wattles in our landscape, protecting big old paddock trees, building our knowledge and raising awareness – it all adds up to a solution we can all enjoy for generations to come.

For more information contact; Ruth Aveyard 0447 242 474 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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