Plant of the day: amazing exploding pine dwarf mistletoe

Thanksgiving is almost here–which means that mistletoe is almost seasonal. But did you know that there are many different species of mistletoe? The cute leathery leaves and small white fruit meant to inspire holiday smooches are the most popular. But I spotted a different type, the greenish-orange pine dwarf mistletoe (Arceuthobium campylopodum), growing on a young bishop pine on the Inverness ridge.

The long, slender stems look like mutated pine needles that have grown swollen and deformed, sticking out from the infected tree branch at all angles. Small, scale-like leaves can be green or orange, and look like tiny nubs sticking out of the stem.

Dwarf mistletoe is a creative parasite, burrowing its roots into the branches or trunk of its host tree.  The flowers are pollinated by insects, but can take a year to develop. Once ripe, each berry explodes–firing its single seed up to 30 feet away at speeds that can reach up to 90 feet per second. The tiny seed missile is coated with a sticky goo, so it adheres to whatever it runs into. And if that happens to be a suitable host plant, the cycle repeats itself.

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