great purple hairstreak is one of our most
beautiful butterflies and unbelievably requires
mistletoe to exist.
remember it like yesterday. I returned from a Rotary
Club meeting in Mission, Tex., to see a good sized group
with cameras gathered around a patch of flowers at the
National Butterfly Center there. I quickly went in and
asked what were they seeing? The answer was a Great
Purple Hairstreak butterfly. Today when I give a
presentation on butterflies I typically call that one a
$5 butterfly, in other words it is so showy itís worth
the price of admission.
the fact that this large hairstreak sporting iridescent
colors may be found along the east coast from Florida to
Maryland, west to Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas,
continuing to New Mexico, Arizona and up the west coast
to Oregon it seems the gardening public hasnít paid
attention. It is indeed a rare group of gardeners I
speak to that includes even one who has ever seen the
Great Purple Hairstreak butterfly.
we teach and labor toward restoring milkweed for
Monarchs, which is their only larval food source, the
Great Purple Hairstreak is also on a rigid diet. The
caterpillar will feed only on mistletoes. Yes, even the
mistletoe has a purpose in life. Actually, there are a
couple of other hairstreak species that also feed on
it or not there are 30 mistletoes native to the United
States, and, as you may remember, they are indeed
parasites. There are people who make money selling
mistletoe. Iíve seen it for sale in craft stores. But
if you want to read about mistletoe, go to the book
called "Diseases of Trees and Shrubs." Several
pages are dedicated to this affliction of our beloved
trees. Yet remember they serve a purpose.
not just some of our most colorful butterflies or
pollinators that must have them, but some of our
favorite birds thrive in forest because mistletoe is
present. Roger di Silvestro, writing for the National
Wildlife Federation, states that a mistletoe-infested
forest may support three times as many cavity nesting
birds as a forest without. You see, it is the trees
dying off that provide these strategic nesting sites.
I was shooting photos of a native passionflower vine
growing in our shaded forest in coastal George a
pileated woodpecker flew, in enticing me to quickly
change my subject matter. These giant woodpeckers that
can reach 18 inches-in length are an example of cavity
nesting birds. Their familiar thumping or drumming can
be heard throughout the canopy of trees making the
forest come alive with excitement. The same came can be
said for the red-headed woodpecker that never fails to
bring out the cameras. For this we may indeed owe a debt
of gratitude to the mistletoe.
eastern mistletoe parasitizes about 110 host species in
50 genera. Host groups include ash, beech, birch,
hickory, maple, oak, pecan, sycamore, walnut and willow.
The mistletoe, through a device called a sinker, becomes
deeply embedded in the tree trunks. After several years
they are considerably below the site of the original
infection. So to remove, the branch must be cut below
the mistletoe sight.
spread mistletoe from tree to tree when they eat the
pulp around the seeds, which stick to them. The seeds
then germinate and the parasite grows through the bark
into the treeís water-conducting tissues where the
sinkers develop. The white fruits and seeds are
poisonous to humans but relished by a host of birds and
the years I have had a good laugh at the expense of
Oklahoma for naming the mistletoe as their State Floral
Emblem. Now as I have matured in my thinking and become
more passionate about nature I would like to tip my hat
to the Sooner State. You were ahead of your time way
back in 1893; Iím guessing you already knew mistletoe
serves a valuable purpose.