Dendrophthoe glabrescens

bald mistletoe


Dendrophthoe glabrescens

(Bakeley) Barlow 1962

pronounced: den-droff-THO-ee glab-RESS-kenz

(Loranthaceae — the mistletoe family)


common name: bald mistletoe

Dendrophthoe is derived from two Greek words, δενδρον (dendron), a tree, and φθοη (phthoe), wasting away; glabrescens is Latin for ‘growing bald’.
The bald mistletoe uses only members of Myrtaceae for host trees, and is usually seen on eucalypts. It is found from the East Kimberley region of Western Australia, right across the Northern Territory, in the Torres Strait islands, and down through most of Queensland into northern NSW.

This mistletoe usually has external runners, and is a spreading, pendant plant. The bluish green leaves are alternate or almost so, usually lanceolate to elliptic, 3 – 19 cm long, 1 – 5 cm broad, with a rounded apex. They are leathery, with either distinct venation, or obscure except for a prominent midrib; the petiole is sometimes only a few millimetres long, but can be up to 2.5 cm.

The inflorescence axis is 1 – 3 cm long, with anything from 5 to 20 flowers in clusters in the leaf axils. The individual flowers are bright orange to yellow-orange, 2 - 5 cm long, and slightly swollen in the middle. The five segments are partly fused.

The fruit is ovoid, 1 – 1.5 cm long, pink in colour. They are edible when ripe, having a sticky, gelatinous, glucose-rich pulp around a single seed.
Mistletoes are much misunderstood and much maligned. They exist in almost all ecosystems where there are trees, and are semi-parasitic. They undertake photosynthesis to produce organic matter, but derive water and mineral nutrients from their host.

There are 85 species of Australian mistletoe. They are very efficient organisms. There is usually better food value in the mistletoes than in the host trees, and so they are more attractive to birds and animals. They usually mimic the host, and sometimes the mimicry is so close that they are almost impossible to detect. Among eucalypts they can often be distinguished by the thickening of the leaf distribution, and the sometimes olive green, sometimes purplish colouring.

The plants are mostly spread by the tiny Mistletoe bird, Dicaeum hirundinaceum. In the mistletoe bird, the gizzard has practically disappeared, and the whole digestive system has become almost an even duct. This enables large numbers of mistletoe berries to pass quickly through the bird. The sticky seeds are voided within 25 minutes of being eaten. If the seeds lodge on a suitable tree, they will usually germinate.
Other birds also use the mistletoes’ highly nutritious nectar and fruit for food. Locally, this includes honey-eaters, lorikeets and cockatoos. Possums, and even koalas, have been observed grazing on the leaves, and many insects also. Possums also feed on the flowers and fruits.

The flesh of the fruits is pleasant to eat - the main drawback is that the seeds are difficult to spit out!

Many species of butterflies feed on mistletoes during the larval stage, including:
      • the Amethyst Jewel Hypochrysops elgneri;
      • Diggle's Jewel Hypochrysops digglesii;
      • the Golden Azure Ogyris ianthis;
      • the Orange-tipped Azure Ogyris iphis;
      • the Northern Azure Ogyris zosine;
      • the Northern Jezebel Delias argenthona;
      • the Orange Jezebel Delias aruna;
      • the Union Jack Delias mysis;
      • the Common Jezebel Delias nigrina; and
      • the moth Syntherata leonae.

Mistletoes like lush, healthy trees, so they may be considered an ‘indicator plant’ for environmental health – their presence can be a good sign. Australian mistletoes are not well-equipped to cope with drought and are sensitive to fire, so bushfires hinder their spread. It has also been suggested that possums are a major restraint on mistletoe growth.


Photographs taken at Rocky Bay lookout 2009,Horseshoe Bay 2013, Arcadia 2014
Page last updated 9th December 2018