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Southwest Regional Reports

Mistletoe in Our Desert Trees

How to recognize and control a parasitic takeover

Mistletoe boughs hang from this mesquite tree. Photo: Laurel Startzel

Most of us associate mistletoe with the Christmas tradition, but contrary to the feeling of yuletide cheer it brings us, mistletoe is actually a parasite that steals nutrients and water from its host plant. Over time it can weaken the host’s strength and livelihood. Mistletoe can grow on over 100 species of trees across the globe, although we see it on only about a dozen varieties here in the Southwest.

In the desert there are certain trees that are more susceptible to mistletoe infestation. Trees such as mesquite (Prosopis spp., Zones 6–11), palo verde (Parkinsonia spp., Zones 8–11), desert ironwood (Olneya tesota, Zones 9–11), pine (Pinus spp., Zones 2–9), and juniper (Junipernus spp., Zones 4–9) are all targets. Walking through Sabino Canyon within Coronado National Forest last week, we could see just how mistletoe affects certain species of trees. Evidence suggests that the main cause for desert mistletoe growing on…

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