What is Mistletoe, Anyway?

parasite (PAIR-uh-site) noun. organism that lives and feeds on another organism.

Mistletoe growing from a tree branch.  Photograph by Martin LaBar

Mistletoe growing from a tree branch.
Photograph by Martin LaBar

‘Tis the season . . . to kiss beneath a parasitic plant? While sprigs of mistletoe adorn doorways around the world, most people probably don’t know that the plant is a parasite. Parasites live and feed on other organisms.

In the case of mistletoe, the plant lives on the branches of trees. Its roots bore into the tree’s bark to draw out water and nutrients. However, mistletoe doesn’t take everything it needs; its leaves do create chlorophyll, which allows it to photosynthesize to make some of its own food.

Indian pipe is an example of a parasite that is wholly dependent on another plant for its food. It doesn’t have any chlorophyll and can’t photosynthesize. Photo by Carrie Seltzer

Photo by Carrie Seltzer

Indian pipe (right) is an example of a parasite that is wholly dependent on another plant for its food. It doesn’t have any chlorophyll and can’t photosynthesize.

The Great Nature Project is a celebration of global biodiversity. Join the fun!

National Geographic Great Nature Project

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s