Discovering a hidden haven in the Latrobe Valley, Victoria, Australia

Pretty Parasite

I spotted this pretty flower while walking with my family at some managed wetlands about an hour to the East of where I live. At first thought I’d stumbled across an intricate new eucalypt flower that I hadn’t seen before.

Then I saw another and another…and then I realised I was seeing them peeking out from acacias and other plants too.

Hmm. Time for a closer look.

What do we have here? One plant attached to another?

Aha.  We were now pretty certain that what we were looking at was an Australian mistletoe, but I have to admit that I was only able to confirm it when we returned home to the wonder of the internet and the Australian National Botanic Gardens Mistletoe page. Here I found out that this was most likely Amyema miquelii and that the photo above shows the plant’s haustoria attached to the host acacia.   You can clearly see the different bark of the two plants with the mistletoe leading downwards.

It seems quite a lot of plants around the world are thrown under the common name ‘Mistletoe’. We have several different types that are native to Australia and from what I can glean, we don’t have any that are introduced. I don’t think we are in the habit of kissing beneath them either.

Australian mistletoes often kill the branch they attach to and sometimes damage the tree enough to kill the whole thing. But recent studies (see  ‘Misunderstood Mistletoe‘ article) suggest that a tree dying is not necessarily caused by the mistletoe and it may only be weak or diseased plants that cannot accommodate the parasite. This and other research also points out that it is a valuable food source for many insects and birds (but this of course is also how it is helped to get around!)

On the other hand there is now more mistletoe around than ever before, so I think the jury is still out on the debate of mistletoe pros and cons.

Thinking about what we saw at the wetlands, there was mistletoe on every third or fourth tree, so that did seem a little worrying. But it might just be the case that we only spotted it because it was in flower and that these plants have happily co-existed for some time.

Time to change the subject as I’m starting to talk myself around in circles. Have you ever seen an Australian black swan? These two were also snapped at the Sale wetlands gliding over to see if we had brought food. We hadn’t. They soon glided off again!

The Black Swan (Cygnus atratus)

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Comments on: "Pretty Parasite" (21)

  1. The mistletoe is very interesting. You showed the difference well and how it attached. I can only imagine how that tree feels. The swans are magical.

  2. Dear Heidi, It is rather a pity that something which appears to be so attractive should possibly be a killer. I should like to believe that it is not the Mistletoe which is really the problem, but more likely that the host plant is already diseased or damaged.

    Whatever, the black swans are lovely. I have only ever seen them once at Chartwell, the country house of Winston Churchill. I think that he bred them but I may be making this up.

    • Hello Edith,

      I also want to believe that this mistletoe is not an outright killer and that it is natures way of cleaning up diseased plants. But I am going to do more reading on the subject as I’m not sure. There are suggestions that they are only multiplying in numbers because of human activity disturbing the natural balance. We always seem to be at the bottom of things falling out of balance don’t we?!

      You have stirred a vague memory that I did see black swans in England. I may have visited Chartwell house, but as I was quite young I’m not sure.

  3. That is a stunningly beautiful flower! It really is a shame it’s parasitic.

  4. How interesting! I wonder how many different types of mistletoe that there are? Probably quite a few. They all seem to look different, but operate the same way. Love the swans. I saw my first black swan swimming in a moat by a castle in England once 🙂

    • Hi Noelle! I read that there are around 90 different mistletoes in Australia alone, so I think the number worldwide would be staggering as they seem to be on most continents. Interestingly the only part of Australian that does not have them is Tasmania.

  5. What a pretty flower! And what a pity that its a parasite.
    Does the Australian mistletoe have berries like the other one or is this too different?

    • Hello Sunita and thanks for dropping by 🙂 Yes, I forgot to mention that the mistletoes here also have berries very attractive to some birds (particularly the aptly named mistletoe bird) and they have a sticky coating like their cousins to help them attach to new host plants.

  6. Love the Black Swans. How beautiful. I have never saw one before. Swans are so graceful looking.

    • Hi Lona, yes they are lovely aren’t they! They really do seem to glide across the water. I’ll have to see if I can dig out an old photo I have of a Mother swan with her cygnets – very cute!

  7. Great mistletoe flower pics. I have never seen an Australian Black Swan before. It is alway fun to visit. jim

  8. Wow, Heidi, this whole post was so lovely and exotic. *Black swans* and mistletoe so lovely that if people aren’t making a habit of kissing under it, well, they lack imagination — or probably they’re just so used to all of the exotic beauty in your part of the world that they don’t even notice. 😉 Those buff-colored stamens (or whatever) shaped like cursive “L”s are too lovely among the bright pink blossoms.

    I’m wondering if mistletoe might behave like so many diseases and insects in an organic setting — only attacking and culling out the less healthy plants, or thinning a too crowded group, so that the land can better support what is left. (But I have no idea!)

    • Hello Meredith, they are just the loveliest flowers aren’t they?! I was also enchanted by that lovely curling habit and their two toned buds.

      But I have to admit (in the interest of fair and accurate reporting 😉 ) that in my part of Australia, we are not really surrounded by such loveliness all of the time. Much of our bushland is pretty solid green-grey year round and flowers are often small and modest affairs that you have to go looking for!

      As for kissing under the mistletoe…maybe I should have grabbed a sprig for some experimentation!

  9. Those two black swans are so beautiful! I never seen black swans before, only the white ones! I do hope that pretty mistletoe is not the cause of the death of trees they depend on. Very interesting information about this mistletoe!

    Oh, thanks for stopping by my blog to identify my myserious rose name for me!

    • Hi Ami, I wish I had taken some better photos of the black swans now, as so many people seem to have enjoyed seeing them!
      No worries about the rose – looks like I was on the wrong track anyway 😀

  10. dirtygirlgarden said:

    This plant is incredible… very cool.

  11. I am speechless at such beautiful blooms. I love the pink colour. Very very nice.

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