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.
This is one of several mistletoe survey projects from Mistletoe Matters, based in Gloucestershire, For details of these and others (including a survey endeavouring to find which fruit, particularly apple, varieties are most susceptible/resistant to mistletoe) please visit www.surveys.mistletoe.org.uk
Results of the survey will be available via the link above in due course. The survey will be open for several years, so rapid results are not expected. This updated version of the survey form (originally part of the 'Mistletoe League' suite of surveys) was released in October 2015.