Be a MistleGo! Pioneer – Help us find the UK’s mistletoe this winter
December 1, 2023
Often associated with Christmas affection, European mistletoe grows naturally on certain tree species across the UK – and now The Tree Council and the University of Oxford are looking for participants for a citizen science survey to determine how abundant it is, and where it grows.
The Tree Council, a national charity that brings everyone together for the love of trees, is supporting University of Oxford DPhil student, Ollie Spacey with his research into the parasitic plant, with its strong ecological, socio-economic, and cultural importance to the UK.
Working with the University, The Tree Council and Fera Science, Ollie has developed an app called MistleGO! that can be downloaded by willing volunteers to record mistletoe locations and its abundance at each sighting. Other useful information such as the host tree species, and whether the mistletoe is in berry can also be collected.
Ollie, from the University’s Department of Biology, said: “You may know mistletoe for its Christmas traditions, but it’s much more than that.
“European mistletoe (Viscum album) is a parasitic plant that grows in green clumps on various trees across the UK.
“While mistletoe may harm the trees it grows on, it can also benefit birds which eat its berries, and a rare moth that feeds on the plant.
“Mistletoe’s abundance is thought to be changing, and we need your help to understand how and why.”
Despite being one of our most recognisable plants, the last national survey of mistletoe in the UK took place in the 1990s – when they simply recorded the location, not its abundance, and with poor accompanying information on host tree varieties.
Your support and participation in this important research will help to put that right. Up to date information on mistletoe’s location and abundance is crucial, both for the successful management of the species, and to help determine its future distribution.
The Tree Council CEO Sara Lom said: “Like mince pies and mulled wine, mistletoe is an intrinsic part of many Christmas celebrations and it features in so many of our traditional stories and mythologies.
“It is a crucial part of our native flora, but we really don’t know enough about it.
“Next time you see what looks like a bird’s nest in the boughs of one of our magnificent trees, take a closer look to see if it is mistletoe, then register its presence using the MistleGO! app”.
Ollie added: “This winter, while trees have lost their leaves and the mistletoe can be seen, please help our research by submitting your own sightings of mistletoe using our new MistleGO! app.
“Upload your photos of one or more trees and record the number of mistletoe growths you see; plus any interesting observations you make. Your records will help us predict the future of this crucial native species!”
While it can cause damage to the host tree – a particular issue in apple orchards – mistletoe acts as a ‘keystone’ species in the UK, thanks to its important role supporting biodiversity, and its extracts can be used for cancer treatment.