Page 60 - Sandgate Guide December Issue
P. 60

 AUSTRALIAN... Mistletoes...
  SAtory Leanne Palmer
ustralia is home to about 90 species of mistletoe – not the kind that is part of the European Christmas tradition
(although Aussies have been known to improvise), but our very own distinctive and equally attractive ones.
Unusual and often misunderstood plants, Australian mistletoes come in many shapes and sizes. Flowering results in a dramatic show of yellow, orange or red. They are semi-parasitic, growing on the branches of natives such as eucalypts, casuarinas, and callistemons, relying on their host for water and support.
Remarkably, they appear to mimic the growth form of the tree they are living on, often producing foliage practically identical to their host, making them hard to see. This resemblance is believed to be a product of evolution.
One species that grows on casuarinas, forming long needle-like leaves, can be seen easily in Tinchi Tamba Reserve. Brighton Wetlands has some beautiful specimens too, growing on eucalypts. Sometimes, it is their tubular orange flowers fallen to the ground that will alert you to their presence.
Parasitic plants and animals have famously bad reputations, yet they form an important part of the ecosystems in which they live. Mistletoes provide a valuable source of food with their nectar-filled flowers and fleshy berries. Possums, insects, and birds feed on them and find shelter within their dense foliage. Aware of their importance, the local bushcare group has started to plant some in the casuarinas in Curlew Park.
One tiny bird, amongst Australia’s smallest, has developed a strong relationship with them. The Australian mistletoebird feeds almost exclusively on the little berries, acting as one of the main distributors of the seeds. It takes less than 30 minutes for a seed to pass through its short digestive system, to be then excreted in a sticky mound on the branch of a tree, ready for the next generation of mistletoes to grow.
The mistletoebird is not so easy to see. Small and fast, a sighting may require some patience. It is only the male that has a red chest; females are dullish grey, making identification tricky.
School holidays are approaching, so make a point of getting out into nature with the kids and marvel at all the intricate relationships.

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