Friday, November 11, 2011

What's Good About Mistletoe?

What's good about mistletoe? If this parasitic plant infests your tree, like is happening to my neighbor's hackberry, it is probably hard to see any good.

But there is one good thing about mistletoe. It is the host plant (food source) for the caterpillars of the Great Purple Hairstreak butterfly.

These beautiful butterflies appear in my garden when the Frostweed and Fragrant Mistflower are in bloom. They are close to three times the size of a Gray Hairstreak butterfly and have an orange abdomen, red, white, and iridescent blue/purple markings. The insides of their wings are iridescent blue/purple. They keep their wings closed when they feed, but when they fly around my prairie, you can see the iridescent colors flash in the sunlight. Beauty sometimes comes from things you would least expect, like mistletoe and caterpillars.

Thanks to my neighbors for unknowingly providing a wildlife habitat for Great Purple Hairstreak caterpillars, but I hope the dying hackberry tree does not fall on your house.


  1. How beautiful! Don't you love it when you get to reap benefits from a neighbor's yard?

  2. Wow. I NEED to see a Great Purple Hairstreak!

  3. When I lived in San Antonio everyone tried to kill it, as it infected Arizona Ash trees. May have to "transplant" some on my neighbors sick hackberry. And I should do it in December to get a double benefit. lol. Nice photos.

  4. Mistletoe is so loved here in the UK that I have seen gardeners inserting seeds in to tree branches in the hope that they will take, they never do. Fantastic pictures of the butterfly. alistair

  5. Abbey, I agree. The neighbor’s mistletoe feeds the caterpillar and I get the butterfly. I think it is a fair deal.

    Collagemama, I thought the Great Purple Hairstreak was an escaped exotic butterfly the first time I saw one a couple of years ago. Now I see them every fall on the frostweed and fragrant mistflower. They are pretty.

    Greggo, it seems like all hackberry trees have mistletoe around here. Although native, hackberry is generally considered a “trash tree”. That other “benefit” of mistletoe can be risky depending on who is under it or chasing your around with it.

    Alistair, that is interesting that UK gardeners try to grow mistletoe in their trees. Is it for ornamental purposes or another use?

  6. Definitely a mixed blessing on that least you get to enjoy it without having it in your own trees ;-)


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