Mistletoes (Amyema and Lysiana species)

Delicious Mistletoe berries.
Delicious Mistletoe berries.

Common names: Box Mistletoe, Harlequin Mistletoe

Taxonomic names: Amyema miquelli, Lysiana exocarpi

Family: Loranthaceae

Habitat: Mallee and woodlands, parasitic on Eucalypts

Form: parasitic shrub, usually hanging from Eucalypt branches

Flowering Time: Most of the year

Kaurna name: Tainmunda

Description and uses:

In Australia, Mistletoes are a bushfood because of their delicious berries that tend to be a white or pink/white when ripe. You can eat them green, but white is much better  and red even better than that. My preference is for Box Mistletoe berries, but other varieties are quite palatable. I’m pretty sure that the local Aboriginal people would have just made use of whichever species was available at the time of harvesting.

They’re a common and interesting group of plants that are worth a closer look. The berries are full of complex carbohydrates that make them sticky in the mouth, getting stickier the longer you leave them. This leads to the nickname of ‘Snottygobble’ in the Coorong area (not to be confused with the other Snottygobble (Cassytha sp) that has its own page on this website.

Mistletoe berries
Super sticky Mistletoe berries

That slimy stickiness also contributes to Mistleoes’ interesting germination habit that is covered later in this post. Australian Mistletoes are related only by name and general habit to the Mistletoes of European Christmas. We have five species in South Australia alone!

The European Mistletoe Viscum album that we’re all familiar with is in the Family Santalaceae while the Australians are Loranthaceae.

Mistletoes are interesting plants, they are parasites on a variety of trees. They are a ‘hemiparasite’, they are not fully parasitic because they produce their own carbohydrates through photosynthesis. The rest they get from their host plant.

In Oz, they are spread by the Mistletoe Bird (Dicaeum hirundinaceum) who’s specialist habits make it perfect for the job.

Mistletoe Birds eat mostly Mistletoe berries and when they poop them out, they do so with their bottoms aligned along a branch rather than hanging over the side. This results in the seed being deposited on the branch rather than on the ground. The sticky carbohydrates in the seed glue it to the bark then a specialized root called a ‘hypocotyl‘ penetrates the bark.

In our area there are two varieties that are found easily. These are Box Mistletoe (Amyema miquelii) and Harlequin Mistletoe (Lysiana exocarpi). These two are have interesting habits. Box Mistletoe only grows on Eucalyptus trees while Harlequin Mistletoe never grows on Eucalypts. However, Harlequin Mistletoes may be a parasite on another Mistletoe that is already growing on a Eucalyptus!

The last picture on this page shows that happening and to confuse the issue and it’s difficult to see because it’s only small, there is a third Mistletoe, a rare Drooping Mistletoe (Amyema pendula) on the same tree. I didn’t photograph it because I wasn’t aware that it was there until I checked the flower and leaf samples that I took home.

Box Mistletoe (Amyema miquelii)
Box Mistletoe (Amyema miquelii)

Box Mistletoes have flat, dropping leaves and red flowers in groups of 3 that hang from a group stalk. Each flower has its own stalk and has 5 petals. The flowers hang downwards. They flower and fruit throughout the year.

A variety of Harlequin Mistletoe (Lysiana exocarpi)
A variety of Harlequin Mistletoe (Lysiana exocarpi)

Harlequin Mistletoe has two forms, one with a bright red flower tube and another where it is green or yellow. It’s all getting pretty confusing…

The flowers have 6 petals and are held erect. They flower and fruit throughout the year.

Another variety of Harlequin Mistletoe (Lysiana exocarpi)
Another variety of Harlequin Mistletoe (Lysiana exocarpi)

There’s 3 Mistletoes in this mix, all on the one tree.
There’s 3 Mistletoes in this mix, all on the one tree.

For those interested, I mentioned Drooping Mistletoe (Amyema pendula) earlier. That species is essentially the same as Box Mistletoe except the center flower in each group of three doesn’t have its own stalk.

Like I said, Australian Mistletoes are an interesting group…you probably won’t get a kiss, but you could get a good feed.