Gardening for birds: 7. Tropical mistletoes

posted in: Plants | 1

The presence of tropical mistletoes on the branches of trees will guarantee the presence of numerous flowerpeckers and sunbirds that come to feed on the flower nectar and fruits. The fruits are swallowed and in a short time the seeds are excreted. Because the seed is covered with a thick and highly sticky mucilage, the bird needs to rub its vent against the branch to dislodge it. In the process the seed is stuck to the branch (left).

Here, the seed germinates, giving out a root that grows into the bark of the branch, to enter the living tissue beneath LINK. There the root taps the host’s water supply. At the same time the mistletoe seedling develops a few green leaves that manufacture food like other leaves. Mistletoes are thus not totally dependent on the host for its survival. It is a semi-parasite and only competes with the host’s own leaves for water and salts.

Generally the mistletoe does minimal damage to the host. However, its excessive growth may eventually weaken and kill the host. But there is no necessity to totally remove the mistletoe. Selective removal of infected branches is recommended.

The commonest species are Dendrophthoe pentandra and Macrosolen cochinchinensis. Between them, we have documented the following birds visiting to feast on the seeds and/or the flower nectar. In the process, they help in the pollination of the flowers LINK and the dispersal of the seeds LINK.

1. Long-tailed Parakeet (Psittacula longicauda) (above left) LINK.

2. Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker (Dicaeum cruentatum) (above centre) LINK.

3. Blue-winged Leafbird (Chloropsis cochinchinensis) (above right) LINK.

4. Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot (Loriculus galgulus) LINK

5. Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker (Dicaeum cruentatum) LINK.

In planning any garden for birds LINK, figs are a good bet LINK, followed by mistletoes.

YC Wee
November 2011

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