This is a semi-parasitic aerial shrub with specialized roots called
haustoria that grow into the wood of the host plant and extract
soil minerals and moisture from the host tree. It has a semi-parasitic
relationship with the host tree, it does contain chlorophyll in
the leaves which allows it to produce its own food. Although it
is not specific to only one host tree species it is generally always
found on the same species in any given area.
The name Tapinanthus is derived from the Greek tapeinos
meaning low or humble and anthos meaning flower. The specific
name rubro meaning red and marginatus meaning margin,
in reference to the red colour of the leaf margin.
This species has developed a very unique ecological relationship
with birds which it uses to both pollinate its flowers as well as
disperse its seed.
The pollination of the flowers is mostly done by sunbirds which
enjoy the copious amounts of nectar produced by the attractive red
flowers. Upon visiting the flower the bird is dabbed on its forehead
with a puff of pollen which it then transfers to the next flower
that it visits.
Many different birds eat the fruit of the mistletoes and inside
the sweet fruit is a seed that is coated with thick, sticky glue.
After eating the fruit the sticky seed gets stuck to the birds'
beak, the bird then wipes it off on the nearest branch where it
sticks until it germinates. Upon germination the seedling sends
its specialized roots into the bark of the host tree.
The sticky glue-like substance is chewed like chewing gum by young
African boys until they have accumulated enough to spread it on
a branch. Any bird which then settles on that branch will gets its
feet stuck to the branch, which makes it easy for the boys to catch
The specialized roots of mistletoes cause a gall like growth of
the host tree at the point of attachment. Once the mistletoe dies,
the soft wood of the mistletoe is quickly weathered and leaves behind
an interesting wooden structure known as a wood rose. Wood roses
are harvested, cleaned, mounted and varnished then sold to tourists
as ornamental curios.
Although the red mistletoe does parasitize its host, it does not
directly cause the death of the plant that it grows on. It may weaken
the plant's resistance to other ailments and overcrowding of mistletoes
may cause undue stress to the host. Mistletoes are a wonderful group
of plants to have in a garden as they attract a variety of birds
with their flowers as well as the fruit.
Most mistletoes can be encouraged to grow in your garden by simply
sticking their seed onto a branch of the desired tree. Should growth
become excessive, some mistletoes can be cut off to reduce the stress
on the host tree Mistletoe species can be cut out to reduce the
stress on the host tree.Most trees will live in harmony for many
long years with one or more mistletoes, and in fact they will often
outlive the mistletoes.
- Pooley. E 1993. The complete field guide to Trees of Natal,
Zululand & Transkei. Natal FloraPublications Trust: Durban.
- Smith. C.A. 1966. Common Names of South African Plants.
The Government Printer: Pretoria.
- Jackson. W.P. U. 1990. Origins and meanings of names of South
African plant genera.UCT Ecolab: Capetown.
- Arnold, T.H. & De Wet, B.C. (Eds) 1993. Plants of southern
Africa: names and distribution. Memoirs of the botanical Survey
of South Africa No 62.
Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden