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  • Writer's pictureanjolireynolds

A Nature Observer Finds Friends Wherever They Go

by Joli Reynolds, Mecklenburg County Park & Recreation

If you are like me, you get true enjoyment from seeing and recognizing plants and animals in the ecosystem around you. If you are constantly trying to figure out “what is that plant?” you will understand my joy from this recent experience.

A cluster of green among the bare branches of birch in winter.
Eastern mistletoe - Andrew Dunn

Most people who celebrate Christmas are familiar with the tradition of “kissing under the mistletoe.” Did you know that the mistletoe plant is a naturally occurring parasite? You can find wild mistletoe right in your Charlotte neighborhood! When you’re getting your morning exercise, look up in the bare branches of your neighborhood trees. Do you see anything that looks like a small evergreen shrub up there? That’s Phoradendron leucarpum, or eastern mistletoe! (Ask me later how it gets established on the tree, you’ll love the story.)

A reddish plant growing in the bare branches of a shrub, adjacent to a large palmate cactus.
Desert mistletoe - Katja Schulz

Recently I traveled to Palm Springs, CA for a conference of like-minded professionals (other nature nerds). This was my first visit to the Mojave Desert. I found myself in an alien landscape with very little ability to recognize the plants and animals around me. And then I saw it. A reddish shrub with white berries growing right out of the branches of a (later identified) honey mesquite. “You seem familiar,” I thought, “you kind of look like a mistletoe.” Then, pulling out my phone, the Seek app confirmed my suspicion! Desert Mistletoe, or Phoradendron californicum. It was the same genus doing the same job in a completely different ecosystem! Nature is so cool.

The next time you explore an unfamiliar habitat, take some time to look closely and the plants and animals you find. How are they like your old friends back home? What jobs are they doing? We would love you to share your stories and finds with us any time!

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