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Dwarf Mistletoe Invades Colorado Landscape Conifers

Dwarf Mistletoe Invades Colorado Landscapes

This widespread fungus is affecting local conifers.

Image of Dwarf Mistletoe from the Colorado State Forest Service

Dwarf Mistletoe – Photo Credit: Colorado State Forest Service

Dwarf Mistletoe is an invasive species of fungus that slowly kills its host tree by leeching nutrients and stunting growth. In Colorado Springs, we have noticed that a high concentration of Ponderosa, Pinon, and Lodgepole Pines are infected, particularly near Cheyenne Canyon and the southwest part of town. According to the Colorado State Forest Service, 50% of Colorado’s Lodgepole Pine trees have some degree of infection. Fortunately this fungus is a slow killer, so some infestations can be managed, saving the host tree.

Dwarf Mistletoe has a distinct structure consisting of leafless flowering shoots that protrude from the area of infection. There are several species of Dwarf Mistletoe and each one typically only infects one species of conifer. On Ponderosa Pines, these shoots are yellow-orange to rust colored and can be up to 6” long. Pinon Pines have light green or olive green to brown shoots up to 5” long, and Lodgepole Pine shoots are only about 3” long and are olive green to yellow in color.

Once a conifer is infected, the fungus has about a three to four year germination and flowering life cycle. After one year of infection, the bark at the site on the tree swells. About two to three years after infection, the fungal shoots emerge from the swollen sites. Once the shoots have matured, the fungus spreads its seeds by way of a powerful 60 mph ejection from the ends of the shoots. This eruption only occurs in August to early September. The seeds are covered in a sticky substance that adheres the seeds to whatever they land on. Once the seeds get lodged into another tree’s bark, the seeds begin to germinate and infect the tree’s vascular system.

Dwarf Mistletoe leeches the host conifer of water and nutrients as it spreads and slowly takes over the tree.  A large concentration of infection sites can cause stunted growth which may lead to branch deformation, or witches’ brooms. In severe cases the fungus will kill the host tree.

Because the fungus takes so long to mature, pruning and removal of the infected site can help to deter and curb its spread. If the tree does need to be removed, you are encouraged to plant a different species of tree, resistant to the mistletoe which infected the previous tree.

If you believe you have Dwarf Mistletoe among your landscape conifers, please give us a call and we will come out and evaluate the infection and offer management solutions!


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For more information on Dwarf Mistletoe around Colorado, please visit the Colorado State Forest Service website!





Source and Photo Credit: Colorado State Forest Service:

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