Kermit and Miss Piggy under the mistletoe. Source: MuppetWiki

Mistletoe is a parasite that grows on trees and as such, it has a perfect adaptation for making sure its seeds land in the right place, which is on a branch rather than falling to the ground. David Attenborough stated it well:

“The only European mistletoe is the strange twin-leaved parasite that once played an important part in human fertility rites, perhaps because in winter its leaves remain green and visibly alive when those of the tree on which it grows have all fallen…Its white berries have flesh that is so extraordinarily sticky that when a bird such as a thrush or a blackbird tries to eat them, they often become stuck to its beak. The bird finds this so irritating that it tries to wipe the berry off by scraping it on to another branch and in doing so, rams it into a crevice. The seed then puts out a root which worms its way into the tree and eventually connects with the vessels within the branch that carry the tree’s sap. And with that as food, it flourishes.”

If you’re intrigued and want the more technical, chemical story behind the sticky seed, see the strategy on AskNature.

It’s up to you whether or not you intend to kiss someone under the mistletoe (a Christmas tradition in some countries). Maybe after reading this other mistletoe strategy on AskNature, you might decide against it.

The BENTHOS will be taking a week-long break the week of December 23. Check back in with us in the new year for more biomimicry and biology stories.



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