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The truth about mistletoe

“Kissing under the mistletoe” has been a fun holiday tradition for centuries, but it's not so fun for the trees it grows on.
402010 07: Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan kisses former First Lady Nancy Reagan in this undated file photo. The couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on March 4th 2002. (Photo courtesy Ronald Reagan Presidental Library/Getty Images)

TEXAS, USA — Mistletoe may seem like a festive plant for all to enjoy, but it’s actually a parasite for trees and can be very dangerous.

West Texas is filled with deciduous trees, which is what mistletoe usually grows on.

Mistletoe is centered around the holiday season. It hangs above two people who share a kiss underneath. But Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Agent of Tom Green County Allison Watkins says mistletoe doesn't bring the same Christmas cheer for trees.

“Mistletoe is semi-parasitic and parasites take nutrients and resources from the plants they’re on. While it’s still green and can do some photosynthesis, it can still do damage,” Wilson explained. 

These parasites extend a root system into the tissue of the tree it’s attached to and extracts nutrients and water away from the tree. As a result, it can be harmful and stressful for trees. 

According to livescience.com, the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe started in ancient Greece, during the festival of Saturnalia and later in marriage ceremonies, because of the plant's association with fertility. 

You may think mistletoe only shows up during the fall/winter seasons when in fact, it's around all year-round. It’s just easier to spot when there are little to no tree leaves on branches. 

“You can’t really get rid of mistletoe unless you snap the branch off. The root system is implanted inside so ripping the mistletoe  off won’t do any good and it’ll grow again. It doesn't have to be removed unless you have a nice tree you want to stay healthy,” Wilson said.

Wilson also mentioned how mistletoe doesn't usually grow on Christmas trees and doesn't pose an immediate threat to humans or animals, although it is not recommended to digest mistletoe at any point or time.