Mistletoe’s hosts & habitats – introduction

Mistletoe on lime trees

This section of the website discusses host and habitats for mistletoe.  Pages include;

As with the rest of the website the information is largely about the traditional mistletoe of Europe, Viscum album,

Hosts & habitats for mistletoe in Britain

Hosts in Britain
The main mistletoe hosts in Britain

In Britain the commonest host for mistletoe is cultivated (not wild) apple trees.  But it also occurs on many other tree species, with other favourites including limes, poplars, and hawthorns.

The full British host list runs to many hundreds of tree species, and our species of mistletoe (Viscum album subspecies album), is thought to have the widest host range of any mistletoe species in the world.

The graph on the left, based on data from the 1990s National Mistletoe Survey, shows relative proportions on the most common hosts – the full list is very long and so if that graph had every species included it would continue to the right for many metres.

Habitats in Britain
The main mistletoe habitats in Britain

Mistletoe’s main habitats, other than the obvious need to be on a tree, are interesting.

Despite needing trees mistletoe is not generally a woodland or forest plant, preferring its hosts in open situations with plenty of light around the tree.

So favourite habitats include gardens, orchards, parkland (traditional and modern), churchyards etc.  It is interesting to note that most of these are ‘man-made’ habitats – and that in a primeval Britain before widespread woodland clearance mistletoe may actually have been less abundant than today.

Information sheet

There is an information sheet on Hosts and Habitats in Britain available here: http://mistletoe.org.uk/homewp/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/infosheet_3_habsandHosts.pdf

Distribution in Britain

For information on mistletoe distribution in Britain visit the Distribution page in the Conservation section of the site.

European hosts & habitats

Mistletoe on Poplars in France

Viscum album’s hosts in Europe are similar to those in Britain – a very wide range but with some definite favourites (apple, poplar, lime etc).

The main difference in mainland Europe is a slightly wider host range, with mistletoe often seen on some species (e.g. Birch, Sugar Maple) that it is rarely seen on in Britain.

Mistletoe on Fir trees in Switzerland. Picture courtesy of John Hollier

There are some more technical differences too, as there are more subspecies of Viscum album on the continent than in Britain.  There are three in total, including the usual Viscum album subspecies album (this is the one we have in Britain) on the many deciduous hosts but also subspecies austriacum on pine trees and subspecies abietis on fir trees.

These evergreen tree mistletoes can be hard to spot (there are lost of them in the picture on the left – click to enlarge), but they are surprisingly common, particularly in upland habitats.

A fourth subspecies (V a ssp creticum) is only found on Crete, also on pines.

Mistletoe habitats across Europe are, unsurprsingly, very similar to Britain, with much in gardens, orchards and other suburban habitats, and only found in woodland with fairly open structure, such as poplar plantations or, for the evergreen host species, the open forests of upland areas.