Mistletoe at Sheppy’s Cider Farm

As some of you may know, Sheppy’s is a cider farm, restaurant and visitor centre of more than 90 acres of orchards, just outside Wellington. We thought it might be interesting for you to read the “Question and Answer” email conversation I had with the owners. It is good to have a slightly different perspective on the issue of Mistletoe. Linda Everton

See more at https://www.sheppyscider.com/


In a visit to Sheppy’s last week, I passed through your many acres of fruit trees and noted that quite a high percentage of your trees had infestations of Mistletoe, but, on the face of it, not to an extent that would cause damage to the trees or reduce yield. I am presuming (perhaps wrongly) that you carry out some sort of Mistletoe management and to add interest to our project, I was wondering if you would be prepared to give me information around how you do this. For example, it would be helpful to know:

How many fruit trees do you actually have?                               

Around 20,000 (about 750 standard trees, the rest bush)

What different fruit trees do you have and are they differentially affected by Mistletoe?                

Almost exclusively apple trees.  Some pears, but no evidence of mistletoe in these as a) they are very young and b) they have been very badly affected by fire blight

Is there a level of infestation beyond which the tree yield is adversely affected?                 

Yes, but it has to be extremely heavy.

Do you let older parts of the Orchard finally succumb to Mistletoe over-infestation?         

Never.  Our oldest trees are all still productive and very beneficial for wildlife.  We try not to allow trees to be overwhelmed.

Do you harvest and sell Mistletoe?           

Yes, to sell in our farm shop.

What birds and insects are associated with your Mistletoe?          

I’m not aware what insects are specifically associated with mistletoe, but we get masses of redwings and fieldfares which come in for the apples first, then the mistletoe.  There must be many other birds which benefit as well, but they are less noticeable.  The orchards are still full of fieldfares.  There maybe redwings, but you don’t always get to see them up very close.

Are you aware of any Mistletoe on Oak within your property?    

No, and I do notice.  Poplar and willow are especially good hosts, I’m sure I’ve seen it in hawthorn, but never oak around here.

Given the traditions and folklore surrounding Mistletoe over the centuries, do any groups carry out any pagan/ religious/traditional ceremonies at Sheppys associated with Mistletoe?.       

Not that I know!  We use it everywhere we can, because it’s magnificent.  It goes in Father Christmas’s grotto, the shop and restaurant (who wants tinsel!) and in large quantities for our annual wassail. 

I used to pick mistletoe and sell it to local florists.  I had the idea that we could live with mistletoe, but it is a major problem.  I’d like to think that we could manage it, but in fact we will never really be able to do that.  It is now infesting all our orchards and is a particular problem on the older trees.  We cut it out fully, but when a tree has it all over its bigger branches there would be nothing left.  Our oldest trees were planted in the early 1930s and they are wonderful, beautiful hosts to so many insects and birds that every one lost is a great shame, but they are gradually succumbing to storms and some are fairly infested with mistletoe.  This year’s berry crop was so heavy I don’t think I’ve ever seen it like that, and, of course, the birds will have spent the whole Winter spreading these about, so this will continue to be an on-going problem which it is going to be very difficult to manage.  It’s a bit of a love-hate relationship!

It is said that this is not a plant which is common in Devon, which is interesting.  I’m not sure if it’s the climate or what.  I wouldn’t be without it, but we could live with less!