Under the mistletoe
Did you know that the delicately beautiful mistletoe, with its small green leaves and white berries, is actually a parasitic tree killer? Plants in the Mistletoe family have little to no ability to use photosynthesis, and so they instead push their roots into the branches and trunks of coniferous trees in order to steal water and nutrients from them! Most of the time, mistletoe will just weaken a tree, but a large enough infestation can sometimes be enough to kill it!
The pretty mistletoe we associate with Christmas decor is a European species but there are actually are several native Dwarf Mistletoe species (left) found here in BC... though they aren't exactly what you would call stunning home decor! These plants predominantly affect coniferous trees and can be very detrimental to the timber industry, as they will stunt the trees they infect.
Parasitism is actually quite common in the plant world. Around the Okanagan and Similkameen, we have plants like Dodder, Ghost pipe, Pine-drop, Broomrape, and Bladderwort that all take some or all of their nutrients from other plants.
A surprising member of the parasitic plant club is also the flowers in the Paintbrush family (left)! A very common sight along trails and in meadows in our valleys, Paintbrushes infect the roots of grasses and other wildflowers.