Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Stalking the wild mistletoe

This picture - at Malaga Lake in Franklin Township, N.J. - looks a little spooky, which is not at all a reflection of the mood of our merry band of mistletoe hunters this morning. Can you see the mistletoe? It's way up in this native black gum tree, sorta looks like a sparkler, and because it's in a public park in New Jersey, it's protected. In other words, nobody can literally hunt it and shoot it out of the tree, as they did in the old days.

Stalking the wild mistletoe

This picture - at Malaga Lake in Franklin Township, N.J. - looks a little spooky, which is not at all a reflection of the mood of our merry band of mistletoe hunters this morning. Can you see the mistletoe? It's way up in this native black gum tree, sorta looks like a sparkler, and because it's in a public park in New Jersey, it's protected. In other words, nobody can literally hunt it and shoot it out of the tree, as they did in the old days. 

I got curious about mistletoe growing in Jersey the other day so I called Joe Arsenault, an environmental consultant in Franklinville and founder in 2004 of the Flora of New Jersey Project. In simple terms, it's an effort by field botanists to update the state's plant manual, last put together in 1983. A lot has changed since then - plant names, descriptions, locations.

About 20 volunteers have signed up. Four are active. Two do the work. "Sound familiar?" asked Joe, who estimates his group has about 1 percent of its work done.
That's where mistletoe comes in.

In Jersey, it grows on black gum, which is a large canopy trees found in or near wetlands, which is where we were today. Birds spread the seeds of mistletoe, which grows on the exterior cells of the woody tissue of trees. This arrangement rarely kills the tree but it can suck the energy out of it and weaken it.

This time of year, mistletoe is flowering and about to produce berrries, which, in yet another of nature's cool synergies, will still be around in spring when birds are migrating back north from places like Chestertown, Md. The black gum also produces a drupe, or fruit, that will stick around and be available to these birds.

New Jersey is the northern limit for mistletoe. There's little or none in Pennsylvania. So, of course, photographer Ron Tarver and I just had to meet Joe. Despite the cold, the mud and rain - maybe because of it - we had a grand mistletoe adventure. More tomorrow.

Inquirer Staff Writer
About this blog
Ginny Smith, a Philadelphia native, joined the Inquirer at 1985. After stints as both reporter and editor in the city and suburbs, she’s been happily writing – and learning - about gardening full time since 2006. She’s won two silver medals of achievement from the national Garden Writers Association and in 2011, Bartram’s Garden honored her with its Green Exemplar award for her stories about “the region’s deeply rooted horticultural history, cultural attractions and bountiful gardens.” She plays in her own – mostly - bountiful garden in East Falls. Reach Virginia A. at vsmith@phillynews.com .

Virginia A. Smith Inquirer Staff Writer
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