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Since my articles are published on the 5th Saturday of any month, it might seem a little late to be talking about mistletoe after Christmas, but I received a present of an unusual planter, soil, seed and directions to grow mistletoe from my daughter (who lives in Arkansas). She had decided to give it to me early so the seeds might be grown by Christmas. I’m afraid my reaction did not please her.

Why would I want to grow mistletoe as it is a parasite that feeds on a tree that becomes its host. I’m very willing to give the gift away, but I don’t think you will be interested in growing it after reading this article. If you happen to buy any mistletoe to hang for Christmas, to fulfill the myth that kissing under it will increase the possibility of marriage in the coming year, I want you to be very careful on how you dispose of it after Christmas.

Several types of mistletoe are poisonous to pets. Pharadendron serotinum, the American variety, is less toxic than Viscum album, the European variety. In humans, it is not known to kill, but can cause drowsiness, blurred vision, vomiting and even seizures.

Mistletoe is a parasite capable of producing globular masses, from a few inches to several feet in diameter, on many shade and fruit trees. These parasitic masses obtain food from their host by means of root-like parts called haustoria. If present in abundance, it is a distinct menace to the host tree and can kill it in extreme cases. It is also invasive because the seeds that drop are sticky allowing more plants to grow.

Another fact about this parasitic organism is while grows like a cancer on a tree’s branch, it has been used to treat cancer in humans, mostly in the UK and Europe because it has not yet been FDA approved for use in the United States.

There are over 1000 different varieties of mistletoe and it grows just about all over the world, as long as the area is as warm as Zone 6. We in Central Illinois are in Zone 5, so it is usually not found in Charleston or Mattoon, but is found in the southern most counties in Illinois. The mistletoe we buy in stores is harvested in Oklahoma (state flower) and Texas.

Mistletoe is one of the most mysterious and sacred plants of European folklore and was used as a religious symbol in pagan rituals 1000s of years ago.

My gift says only that it is Organic Mistletoe, which tells me nothing. My daughter was right, the seeds planted in the cute container would be seedlings in 4 to 6 weeks by “only adding water”, but then needed to be transferred to a larger pot for it to grow to the size where it could be transferred to the branch of a tree. In the end, it would probably not live in Central Illinois, so does anyone want my gift?

If you haven’t signed up to take the classes to become a Master Gardener volunteer, it is possible your application will still be accepted even though the deadline is past. Call the Extension office in Charleston if you are interested. You will learn a great deal, but better yet you will be joining a great group of people.

If you have other questions about your garden or landscape, feel free to contact a Master Gardener volunteer at the University of Illinois Extension office in Charleston at 217-345-7034. You can also check out the many horticulture webpages at the U of I Extension’s website by visiting . And be sure to like the Master Gardeners’ Facebook page, at


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