Mistletoes are semi-parasitic plants with green leaves or stems that photosynthesise but rely on a host tree or shrub for water and nutrients.

White mistletoe (Tupeia antarctica) berries, Omori Scenic Reserve. Photo: G.M.Crowcroft.
White mistletoe (Tupeia antarctica) berries

There are 9 species native to New Zealand

Three species are found mainly in beech forest:

  • Red mistletoe (Peraxilla tetrapetala)
  • Scarlet mistletoe (P. colensoi),
  • Yellow mistletoe (Alepis flavida).

Five species are in lowland forest and scrub:

  • Small-flowered mistletoe (Ileostylus micranthus),
  • White white mistletoe (Tupeia antarctica)
  • Three dwarf or leafless mistletoes (Korthalsella salicornioides, K.lindsayi and K. clavata)

One species (Trilepedia adamsii or Adams’s mistletoe) is presumed extinct - it was last seen in 1954.

Threats

Mistletoe populations have declined all over New Zealand since the early 1900s mainly due to possum browse, vegetation clearance and decline in native bird species, which act as pollinators and seed-dispersers. 

Rats are also suspected of eating mistletoe and insects damage them. 

If this decline continues, more local populations may disappear and, in the long term, species could go extinct nationwide.

Close up of mistletoe. Photo: Trevor Johnston.
Close up of mistletoe

DOC's work

Red mistletoe, Peraxilla tetrapetala. Photo: John Smith-Dodsworth.
Red mistletoe, Peraxilla tetrapetala

The Department of Conservation has undertaken surveys to find out more about where mistletoes grow and the number of plants out there. Host trees supporting red, scarlet and white mistletoes have been banded to protect them from browsing possums.

Possum control is undertaken to allow the mistletoes to flower and fruit. Physical and legal protection of land has been undertaken at some key mistletoe sites.

Experiments have been undertaken to translocate mistletoes to new sites. This has involved “planting” mistletoe seed on potential hosts. This has been done successfully with red mistletoe and small-flowered mistletoe and may prove to be one way of ensuring mistletoe survival.

Auckland's beech mistletoe in flower.
Auckland's beech mistletoe in flower

The Department of Conservation has prepared a national recovery plan to co-ordinate conservation effort and to ensure the long term survival of mistletoes throughout New Zealand

You can help

If you have mistletoes on your property the following actions will help to protect these threatened plants:

  • Take care when clearing or trimming vegetation not to disturb mistletoes, their host trees or habitats.
  • Wrap aluminium bands around host tree trunks to prevent possum browse (not too tight as that will strangle the tree).
  • Control possums and other pest species. On-going possum, rat and mustelid control may also cause native bird populations, which are crucial to disperse mistletoe fruit, to increase.
  • Resist picking mistletoes. New Zealand species take many years to replace lost branches.
  • Report any sightings of mistletoes to your nearest DOC office. Green and dwarf mistletoes are obvious throughout the year, while the beech mistletoes tend to stand out during summer when they are flowering.

Related link

Mistletoes in Wellington Conservancy: Current status and management requirements 2001 (PDF, 1958K)

The report aims to raise awareness of the indigenous mistletoes of the Wellington region and focus attention on sites that support them. It describes some of the key actions required to protect mistletoes in the wild, and explains how people can assist with gathering information about mistletoe distribution for inclusion on the Department of Conservation's plant database.


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