05 January 2012


It's called « gui » in French. C'est le gui, ou du gui, and it's pronounced [GHEE] with a hard G. The word derives from the Latin name for the plant, Viscum album, according to the Grand Robert dictionary. The English name, mistletoe, has German roots.

That's funny, because mistletoe seems to be a rootless plant. Actually, mistletoe's roots are modified to penetrate the branch of a tree and draw sustenance from the tree's pulp and sap. Le gui is a parasite, and it thrives on certain tree species especially — apple trees and poplars, for example.

Mistletoe "taking root" on the branch of an apple tree

The oldest and biggest apple tree in our yard has three or four big clumps of mistletoe growing in it. Walt says he's going to try to cut them out this spring. Another smaller apple tree out by the back gate has a couple of big balls of mistletoe in it too.

Same tree — the gui is starting to form its characteristic ball

One popular name for mistletoe in French is Vert de pommier — Apple Tree Greenery. Mistletoe stays green through the winter, and that's when it's most visible, up in bare tree branches.

Clumps of mistletoe in our biggest apple tree

Yesterday I noticed that a spindly little apple tree out in the vineyard, next to the vine workers' shed, has been colonized by mistletoe too. It seems mistletoe is spread principally by birds called "mistle thrushes" that eat the white berries of the parasitic, epiphytic plant. Some of the berries pass through the thrush's gut without being digested. The seeds are in the bird's droppings, which land on tree limbs.

You can see a clump of mistletoe in this shot of yesterday's sunrise.

Mistletoe only rarely grows in oak trees. When ancient druid priests found oak mistletoe, it had special religious significance for them. So now it's an important symbol around the beginning of the new year. XOXO


  1. Ken, are any of your apple tree mistletoes 'with berry'? I ask 'cos a friend in the UK is trying to get mistletoe established in his orchard.
    Apparently there is a better success rate if you use berries from the same species of host plant. The nearest I've found for him here is some growing on a Hawthorn. You might have just the seed he needs, however.

    WV is "homatere"... a farmer, a man of the soil, etc.

  2. There was a tv news piece in the UK recently about getting rid of mistletoe. I recall that the whole branch had to be removed as there can be danger of the infection carrying on for at least half a metre within the branch after the obvious infestation.

  3. Tim, why would somebody want to get mistletoe established in an orchard? I guess there's a commercial market for sprigs of mistletoe around Christmas and New Year's Day?

    Anonymous, that's what we've talked about doing — cutting out whole limbs and branches. That tree produces far to many apples anyway.

  4. Oh Tim, I'll go look for berries.

  5. Mistletoe doesn't kill its host unless the tree is old and the number of mistletoe plants is very high. The latest studies show that it isn't Mistle Thrushes that spread it most effectively, but Blackcaps.

  6. Susan and Ken, I guess Susan answered the question: is the Mistletoe growth a threat to the tree in which it takes root?

    I had never thought for a moment about where or how mistletoe grows before this post, Ken!

  7. Susan, I've never particularly noticed Blackcaps or Mistle Thrushes around our property.

    Judy, I'm trying to remember if there is mistletoe in the U.S.

  8. Thanks Ken, but wait until the weather improves.... horizantal fine rain here at the moment... gauge recording 1"... most of which is wind [15 to 30 kph with only two lobes out of three on the spinner... so under-reading like crazy], not rain; it seems to happen when the wind blows along the valley... GP to PP or vice versa... not when the wind blows across.

    And I'm not sure why Andy wants mistletoe in his orchard... but he's both environmentalist and horticulturalist!

  9. Ken, yes there is mistletoe in the US....I'm thinking mostly in the south, but not sure about that....we had it in LA

  10. We do have mistletoe here in SoCal or something that looks very much like it. There are quite a few Cottonwoods [Populus sp.] near Santa Ysabel that are colonized by big round clumps of something. Here, in the desert, it seems we also have something that looks like mistletoe, mostly in Palo Verdes [Cercidium sp.].

    Thank you both for your good wishes.

  11. I think mistletoe is a sort of
    "cash crop" here in Texas
    around the holidays.

  12. There are environmental reasons for encouraging mistletoe, notably providing a food source for certain birds. I guess it's a question of finding a natural balance so that the poor tree isn't completely drained.
    And then yes, there is the commercial aspect, certainly in the UK, rather a niche market for a few weeks of the year.

  13. Ken

    Mistletoe is big business in Texas for the Christmas season. Last Christmas, florists could not get them as demand surged and supply from Texas was curtailed due to drought and wild fires during and after summer 2011.

  14. It looks like our mistletoe is different from yours in France. I see it on oaks here in Alabama. I remember seeing it often in doorways at Christmas for kissing;)
    I think we'll keep ours since we live in the land of kudzu which is truly a pest worth fighting (#needtochoseourbattles)
    Wow, for the Euro vs dollar today!

  15. Thanks for an interesting lesson in mistletoe!

    For the mistletoe watchers: we have plenty of it here in N. California.

  16. Well, I thought there was mistletoe in the U.S. but I couldn't remember? Age? Or the years I've spent here in Saint-Aignan? Both, eh?

    Evelyn, yes! I'd be happy with a euro at $1.25 U.S. Actually, I'm pretty happy right now.

    Thanks, everybody, and again Happy New Year.

  17. I think I know where some oak mistletoe grows, in the woods behind my house. I am going to take a picture and send it to you.

  18. I would like to have an apple tree in my garden... But apple trees are not grown where I live :-(.


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