BACKGROUND: Most mistletoe in Britain grows in the SW Midlands of England and, within that area, most of the seasonal mistletoe harvest (sent around the whole country at Christmas) comes from traditional apple orchards. Mistletoe grows readily in the orchards of the area and fruit trees are the only type of tree where it is easily harvested.
But traditional apple orchards have been declining for decades, with over half the acreage replaced following agricultural changes since the 1950s. Many traditional orchards that have survived are neglected and slowly dying, as most fruit production has shifted to new intensively planted orchards where the trees are too small to support mistletoe.
Nevertheless the mistletoe harvest continues each year, as there are still enough orchards with mistletoe. Indeed there seems to be more mistletoe in some of the old orchards. This is likely to be linked to neglect - mistletoe, a parasite that reduces tree vigour, is no longer being managed because the old orchards are no longer productive. Some orchards now seem more valuable for the mistletoe crop than the fruit crop.
That may seem reassuring for mistletoe supply - but it is not a sustainable situation as the mistletoe-bearing orchards are still declining. Indeed if mistletoe has increased significantly in some of them that decline may now accelerate: Too much mistletoe will hasten the death of its host tree and so a recent increase in mistletoe may, ironically, cause a sudden decrease in the near future.
All of this commentary is based on observation alone - there is very little documented information on how mistletoe is managed in orchards, or whether mistletoe management has changed in recent decades. This project 'Orchard Trees with Mistletoe' aims to gather some definitive information. It will take several years to produce results, as participation will inevitably be gradual.
If you own or manage an orchard (apple or other fruits) with mistletoe please take a few minutes to fill in the survey form. Click the link below to take part:
If you have more than one fruit tree type (apples, pears, plums etc) or variety (Pippins, Russets, Bramley etc) then please also consider taking part in the Mistletoe's Favourite Fruit Trees survey project too.
Results will be available in the public domain when sufficient data have been collected.
About this project:
This is one of several survey projects launched as the Mistletoe League in 2011/12. The overall project is an initiative from Mistletoe Matters, a small mistletoe consultancy in Gloucestershire, England. It has arisen following many years of witnessing the mistletoe/fruit tree problems apparently worsening, but with no hard data to quantify the problem. Rapid results are not anticipated! The project is likely to run for several years, building up more information each winter season from 2011/12 onwards.
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