Escapito #1 Focus Study: HoHoHo Mistletoe!

Percha Dam State Park may not have been the nicest place we stayed during our southern jaunt through New Mexico, but it obviously made an impression. Situated along the Rio Grande River, the area seems to be a magnet for birds. And for good reason. Food! And food for at least one very cool bird, the Phainopepla. A specialist species, their favorite high glucose treat happens to be mistletoe berries…… and oh my! Every cottonwood tree along the river corridor weighed heavy with huge leafy clumps of big leaf mistletoe laden with ripe berries!

There wasn’t a single tree without mistletoe, made all the more obvious because the cottonwoods were still dormant. I wondered ….. is this a healthy situation?

Naturally I wanted to know more about mistletoe. This journey of discovery took a few weeks of serious reading about big leaf mistletoe; it’s characteristics, life cycle, host species, the benefits to wildlife, nutrient recycling and biodiversity, and the downside of rampant infestations. It was hard to know when to stop reading and try to make pictorial sense of it all.

The following photos of my journal pages depicts what I felt to be the most important aspects of this mistletoe situation.

The full 2-page spread, 9”x12” each

Like many others who are appalled at the thought of mistletoe taking over the world, I began with a similar attitude. But the more I learned, the more I understood that in many cases, a little mistletoe isn’t such a bad thing. The wildlife benefits alone are many, not just in providing food, cover and nesting for birds and small mammals, it’s common to find lizards hunting insects hiding in big leafy clumps. Leaves are eaten by porcupine, deer and caterpillars, and the berries provide food for more than 90 bird species world-wide.

So what about the immense population of mistletoe along this stretch of the Rio Grande? The health of this old, once stately gallery of trees is being challenged by drought, low water flows and rising temperatures. Mistletoe infestations add to the challenges the State Parks folks are dealing with, not just at this location, but in areas now to the north as mistletoe spreads.

So so much information I needed to create two accordion booklets for the best nuggets.

We noticed young cottonwoods in the area are also infected with mistletoe, but it’s the older trees at greatest risk. As long as there’s adequate water in the Rio Grande to keep the cottonwoods alive, mistletoe and cottonwood may continue to coexist for many years, and the beautiful Phainopeplas we found noshing on berries will be well fed.

Time is sure to tell the story.

The front accordion layout of my two little booklets.

The back accordion layout of my two little booklets.

8 Comments

  1. Fascinating study and I’m loving your mini accordian books! I learned a new word, Hemiparasite! Glad the mistletoe benefits so many birds and small mammals. Wow, over 1300 species of mistletoe worldwide, except Antarctica! Thanks, I learned a lot!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much Karen. Mistletoe is one of those plants you “hate to love” but such a fascinating study. We have same genus mistletoe in our big backyard juniper and I’ve been removing the stems with berries as high as I can reach. Now I know this will only slow down the mistletoe growth, but I also know now to give the juniper extra water this summer to give it a fighting chance. Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

      Like

  2. What an impressive amount of work you put into these pages. The accordion fold pockets are great. I’ve seen mistletoe in Maine, where it is killing off spruce trees on Hog Island. Not so good. Thanks for sharing what you learned.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, thanks Jean for taking time to read and comment on these pages. Yes, mistletoe can be not so good, especially the eastern dwarf mistletoe that’s taking over Hog Island spruce. I read that dwarf mistletoe is much more damaging than the big leaf genus I discovered on the Rio Grande cottonwoods. Now I’m curious to learn more about Hog Island! I thoroughly enjoyed putting these pages together. Many thanks again for your comments.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. goodlifecp says:

    I love the drawing on the first page showing the tree’s layers and shows how the mistletoe is a parasite. Really interesting information. Did you see very much tamarisk in the same area?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks! I pondered for a few days about how to create that illustration. I’m happy about your comment! And unfortunately, yes ……. Salt cedar was also prolific, but the mistletoe more so, so that story took precedence! Thanks for asking Cass, and as always, thanks for following along!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. sgoodman56 says:

    EVERYTHING is fascinating, Barb! The way you illustrate, the information-you make everything fun and interesting. I can see you in a school as a science guest. Oh! the envelopes are so perfect. I hope there’s enough rain everywhere so the trees and the mistletoe can flourish.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much Susan for the comments. Wow, what wonderful comments too about teaching science. Cross your fingers ….. I’ve applied for the Albuquerque master naturalist course (and so has Roy). And we’re crossing our fingers for a rainy monsoon season late summer!

      Liked by 1 person

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