Wildflowers, Photos … and Mistletoe – ‘Box Mistletoe’

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Next time you get a Christmas kiss under the mistletoe, here’s something to think about.
Mistletoes are parasites. 91 species are found in Australia and of them, 66 species are endemic.

Australian Mistletoes can be found from our Alpine Regions to the Deserts, the Tropics and all regions in between. They are found in all Australian mainland states, but Tasmania remains mistletoe free.

As parasites, Mistletoes take their water and nutrients directly from their host trees. However they manufacture their own carbohydrates using photosynthesis. Mistletoes attach to their hosts above the ground and are distinguished by their growth form, being shrubby, woody plants.

Mistletoes attach to their host via a specialised organ called a haustorium. This structure serves two purposes, anchoring the mistletoe firmly to its host tree, and tapping directly into the sap of the host tree, allowing water and dissolved nutrients to flow directly to the mistletoe.

The most diverse genus of mistletoe in Australia is the genus Amyema, with 39 of almost 100 species native to Australia.Image Could Not Be Found
Just like other flowering plants, mistletoes begin life as a seed. Mistletoe seeds are surrounded by a sticky translucent pulp known as viscin.

The seeds are eaten and distributed by birds. Eastern Spinebills, Painted Honeyeaters, Mistletoe Birds and many others are attracted to the coloured fruit. When the fruit is eaten the seed and its sticky coat is not digested in the gut of the bird. The birds quickly defecate the undigested seed pulp, depositing the seed onto tree branches where it will then germinate
The sticky pulp is important for two reasons. It attaches the seed firmly to its host tree and it acts like a sponge to absorb moisture from rain and dew for the developing embryo within the seed. Image Could Not Be Found
Once seed germinates and bonds to its host tree, the bond is permanent and the fate of the mistletoe depends solely on the fate of the host tree. It is in the interest of the mistletoe to have a negligible effect on its host tree, so that the host and the mistletoe can both survive. However when the host tree is infected by a large number of mistletoe plants, host vigour and survival can be compromised, leading to the decline and ultimately death of both the host tree and the mistletoe. Image Could Not Be Found
Mistletoe flowers have abundant nectar and the nutritious fruit attracts many types of birds such as woodswallows, shrike-thrushes, trillers and lorikeets that regularly feed on the nectar. Emus, butcherbirds, currawongs and ravens will gorge on the sticky fruit. Other native animals that feed on the mistletoe include gliders, fruit bats and possums. Several species of kangaroo have been reported as eating mistletoe.

Many types of mistletoe resemble their host very closely. The Buloke Mistletoe has needle like foliage and dark coloured leaves making it almost impossible to locate when it is not flowering. Box Mistletoe has leaves approaching 40cm in length when growing on Manna Gums, but when growing on various species of mallee has leaves less than 2 cm in length, a twenty fold difference in size.
Mistletoes also provide roosting and nesting sites for birds and animals in or on the rigid framework of the branches.

Amyema miquelii – Box Mistletoe
The Box Mistletoe is one of Australia’s most prolific mistletoes. It is the most common species found west of the Great Dividing Range and is found in all mainland states. While it is mainly a Eucalypt dependent parasite it is sometimes found growing on acacias.

Box Mistletoe forms a large pendulous mistletoe with shiny leaves and red flowers that are borne in groups of three on individual stalks. What makes this mistletoe easy to distinguish from its host tree is the bronze or yellow hue of the leaves when the plant is exposed to strong sunlight, yet plants that are shaded will still have green leaves.

The Box Mistletoe is found in open forests and woodlands dominated by eucalypts. The red flowers are comprised of pinkish petals that open to reveal bright red stamens and style. The fruit is smooth and mostly yellow – cream in colour.

Being the most abundant Australian mistletoe, it can often be found in very high numbers. There are numerous environmental reasons for this abundance that can also indicate that the natural habitat is out of balance. Many studies of Mistletoe have been carried out in various areas of Eastern Australia During the mid 1980’s up to 40% of eucalypts in the Clare region were infected so heavily that many trees were severely stressed and showed signs that they would not survive.

Mistletoe Action Groups have been formed and their efforts and further research have led to a better understanding of how to manage the spread of mistletoe. A quarter of a century later the actions of these groups have saved countless trees from death and the eucalyptus trees – and their mistletoes - are looking healthy again.Image Could Not Be Found


For a greater in depth detailed report and more images, please refer to my accompanying blog


Cheers


Stephen
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Reply By: Skippype - Saturday, Apr 16, 2011 at 17:30

Saturday, Apr 16, 2011 at 17:30
Thanks for that Stephen, a really interesting read as usual.
Skip
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Follow Up By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Saturday, Apr 16, 2011 at 17:39

Saturday, Apr 16, 2011 at 17:39
Hi Skip

Thanks for that. I learnt a lot myself with the research and has been interesting watching things develop of the mistletoe clump.



Cheers

Stephen
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Reply By: Member Al (Sunshine Coast) - Saturday, Apr 16, 2011 at 17:40

Saturday, Apr 16, 2011 at 17:40
Thanks a lot Stephen. Next time a pretty girl wants to kiss me under a mistletoe I will be distracted thinking about all that info!! LOL

Cheers
Allan

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Follow Up By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Saturday, Apr 16, 2011 at 17:43

Saturday, Apr 16, 2011 at 17:43
Hi Alan

Makes sure that you get a photo for the forum though...LOL


Thanks for that.


Cheers


Stephen
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Reply By: Member - John and Val - Saturday, Apr 16, 2011 at 21:43

Saturday, Apr 16, 2011 at 21:43
Hi Stephen,

Thanks for another informative post and blog about another interesting, unusual and widespread plant. You have some wonderful photos there, thanks to your perseverance watching these plants for some time. I especially like the germinating seed and the "Chinese lantern" stage of the flowers.

There is a lot of mistletoe all along the NSW tablelands, and in some places it reached plague proportions. Some landcare groups around Canberra put in a lot of effort lopping trees that were badly affected. Hopefully now that the drought has broken and the gum trees are making a lot of new growth things will get back to a better balance.

I wonder if anyone on here has a photo of a mistletoe bird, as they are closely associated with the plant, feeding on the berries and spreading the seeds.

For all the negative press that mistletoe gets it is still a valuable plant, as you say, providing food and shelter for many birds and animals.

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Cheers,

Val.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein

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Follow Up By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Saturday, Apr 16, 2011 at 22:31

Saturday, Apr 16, 2011 at 22:31
Hi Val

And a very big thanks to you grateful help as well. There are lots of Mistletoe birds around the area, and as you would know, they are a small and fast bird, but perhaps one day I might be able to get a photo of one and add it to the Blog...hears hoping.

Thanks for all your encouragement.


Regards


Stephen





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Follow Up By: Sigmund - Sunday, Apr 17, 2011 at 16:00

Sunday, Apr 17, 2011 at 16:00
LOL, once my partner and I did more than kiss under mistletoe - that stuff must have some er, aphrodisiac, properties ;-}

Thanks for the post Stephen.

You can google for images as well as web text; for the bird: click

Handsome fellas.
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Follow Up By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Sunday, Apr 17, 2011 at 20:14

Sunday, Apr 17, 2011 at 20:14
Hi Sigmund

Thanks for the reply. As for the image, I would rather have a photo that is taken by me, as there are lots around Clare, but I will have to be in the right place at the right time.


Cheers


Stephen
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Follow Up By: Sigmund - Sunday, Apr 17, 2011 at 22:46

Sunday, Apr 17, 2011 at 22:46
Of course.

Orig bird photography is a helluva challenge as you'd know.

I love the sure shots I've got in my travels, just to get them on the 'puter to find a speck in the sky :-{

Should call them 'mistleshots' ;-}

Best wishes.
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