Monday, March 15, 2010

Luther Burbank's Lethal Legacy

The famous and revered Luther Burbank propagated mistletoe Viscum album seed supplied to him by J.C. Vaughan of Chicago, II 1990. It soon became a “weed”. A silent, slow killer.

It’s known to infect more than 400 taxa of trees and shrubs. Presently in California, common hosts include species of maple (Acer), alder, (Alnus), apple (Malus), cottonwood (Populus), plum (Prunus), locust (Robinia), willow (Salix), birch (Betula), hawthorn (Crataegus), and elm (Ulmus) and now on oaks (Quercus).

Mistletoe sucks water out the plant [usually a tree, the green balls on the limbs above]. Over time, it can weaken the tree. Then sometimes bark beetles will come in and finish off the tree. I watched an apple tree die over a 12-year period. Slow death, but an early death nonetheless. Now I'm watching a entire apple orchard slowly die.

One report said, “By 1984, the gross area covered by the parasite had spread to about 71 sq. miles. The average distance of spread from the point of introduction was 3.5 miles. Most of the infestation is within a 1-mile radius of the original centre of introduction.” [The photo above is taken 10 miles from Burbank’s Sebastopol, CA farm.] According to another researcher “It is not expected to expand the boundary of its present range since there are few susceptible host trees surrounding the area.”

Hah, I recently traveled over 50 miles away from Burbank’s farm [and over two bridges!] and spotted the mistletoe on a Popular tree.


Let me know what you think.Visit my web site to learn about my new book on drip irrigation and other gardening books.NOTE: The comments section at the bottom of the post has disappeared. Click on the "___ Comments" button or the title under the "Blog Archives". Thanks, Robert