Desert Mistletoe

Common Names:
Desert Mistletoe, Mesquite Mistletoe
Scientific name:
Phoradendron californicum
Synonyms:
Phoradendron californicum var. distans, Phoradendron californicum var. leucocarpum
Elevation range:
-150 to 6300 ft
Flowering Months:
January, February, March
Life Cycle | Lifeform:
Shrub
Pollinator or food source for:
Notes:
TOXIC, Parasite/Hemiparasite, Food for birds, Nesting place for birds
Ancestral Usage:
food
State Occurrences:
Desert region:
Mojave, Sonoran
Comments: 

Desert Mistletoe is a hemiparasite that is most often found growing on Ironwood, Paloverde, Catclaw, or Mesquite trees. The Phainopepla, a member of the Silky Flycatcher family is commonly seen eating the berries. The bird consumes the berries and the seeds pass through their digestive system as they move about from tree to tree, thus distributing the seeds. Native Americans ate the ripe berries, but avoided other parts of the plant as it is toxic.

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Desert Mistletoe in the desert

Phoradendron californicum plants are dioecious, with male and female flowers on separate plants. The female plant produces the berries shown here. Anza Borrego Desert State Park | March 2, 2010

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Desert Mistletoe in the desert

Phoradendron californicum red berries provide an interesting contrast to these gray, mud-covered hills. It usually parasitizes plants in the Pea family. Anza Borrego Desert State Park | March 2, 2010   

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Desert Mistletoe in the desert

Fruit of Phoradendron californicum is a bright red or translucent round berry clustered along the stems. Anza Borrego Desert State Park | March 2010

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Desert Mistletoe in the desert

This Phoradendron californicum has tiny, inconspicuous flowers. The nest probably belongs to a Phainopepla. Bighorn Mtn Wilderness, CA | May 2009   

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Desert Mistletoe in the desert

Male Phainopepla on Phoradendron californicum. The male of this bird species is a shiny black with white bars on the underside of its wings. Bow Willow, Anza Borrego Desert State Park, CA | February 2005    

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Desert Mistletoe  in the desert

Female Phainopepla bird perched on Phoradendron californicum. These silky flycatchers feed on the red berries of the plant and disperse the seed through their droppings, thus forming a colony on another plant. Anza Borrego Desert State Park | March 2010   

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Desert Mistletoe  in the desert

Flowers on this Phoradendron californicum have mostly matured and are beginning to fruit. Pipes Canyon, CA | March 2008    

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Desert Mistletoe in the desert

Phoradendron californicum is a hemiparasite that takes part of its nutrients from the host plant but also photosynthetic. In this case it has overwhelmed the host shrub which will soon die, killing the parasite as well. Joshua Tree National Park | February 2015