Sunday, 22 April 2007

Kiss me quick

This is a picture of something most of us regard as a little bit special, mystical, magical, historical and rather unusual.


Mistletoe has long been regarded as something out of the ordinary, beloved of druids, touched by the gods and holding significance in many cultures. Our orchard is swamped with the stuff. Some of the trees are so infested that in the winter they still appear green, as if fully leaved from a distance but the truth is they are covered with this pernicious and ultimately destroying parasite which slow sucks the strength from the branches until there is none left for further growth and the tree dies.

mistletoe berry

It starts innocuously enough. A bird wipes a sticky berry from its beak onto rough bark and leaves a primed seed stuck on the branch ready to sink a connection into the living tree. In a year or two great bunches of clear green growth have developed, flowers and berries form and the process is repeated.

When we first arrived and found the extent of the problem we blithely imagined we'd have a couple of years profit flogging it off at farmers' markets at xmas but it hasn't worked out like that and the decision has been made, no matter what the cost in loss of druidic karma (you what!?!), to operate a zero tolerance policy and remove it as completely as we can to give our poor trees some chance to grow and prosper.

It's not that easy to remove. Although individual branchlets are brittle and easy to snap off where the mistletoe joins the branch the fusion, presumably managed by the mistletoe, forms a large and fully integrated 'root' that must be sawn through. We have yet to discover if the part left behind is capable of regrowth but we fear it will be. The trees are full sized, grown on their own roots or strong rootstocks to make tall specimens capable of withstanding poor conditions and the depredations of deer and cattle. Because of this getting to the upper branches to clear the infestations is almost impossible. In some cases all we can do is prune out entire branches at a lower level to take the parasite out at the same time.

A long task ahead and in an area where mistletoe is endemic a never ending one. Anyone needing a sprig for xmas, please come and pick your own.

mistletoe berry

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