Journal Article

Mistletoes and mutant albino shoots on woody plants as mineral nutrient traps

M. A. Lo Gullo, G. Glatzel, M. Devkota, F. Raimondo, P. Trifilò and H. Richter

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 109, issue 6, pages 1101-1109
Published in print May 2012 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online March 2012 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI:

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  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Plant Sciences and Forestry


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Background and Aims

Potassium, sulphur and zinc contents of mistletoe leaves are generally higher than in their hosts. This is attributed to the fact that chemical elements which are cycled between xylem and phloem in the process of phloem loading of sugars are trapped in the mistletoe, because these parasites do not feed their hosts. Here it is hypothesized that mutant albino shoots on otherwise green plants should behave similarly, because they lack photosynthesis and thus cannot recycle elements involved in sugar loading.


The mineral nutrition of the mistletoe Scurrula elata was compared with that of albino shoots on Citrus sinensis and Nerium oleander. The potential for selective nutrient uptake by the mistletoe was studied by comparing element contents of host leaves on infected and uninfected branches and by manipulation of the haustorium–shoot ratio in mistletoes. Phloem anatomy of albino leaves was compared with that of green leaves.

Key Results

Both mistletoes and albino leaves had higher contents of potassium, sulphur and zinc than hosts or green leaves, respectively. Hypothetical discrimination of nutrient elements during the uptake by the haustorium is not supported by our data. Anatomical studies of albino leaves showed characteristics of release phloem.


Both albino shoots and mistletoes are traps for elements normally recycled between xylem and phloem, because retranslocation of phloem mobile elements into the mother plant or the host is low or absent. It can be assumed that the lack of photosynthetic activity in albino shoots and thus of sugars needed in phloem loading is responsible for the accumulation of elements. The absence of phloem loading is reflected in phloem anatomy of these abnormal shoots. In mistletoes the evolution of a parasitic lifestyle has obviously eliminated substantial feeding of the host with photosynthates produced by the mistletoe.

Keywords: Mistletoe; Scurrula elata; albino shoots; mineral nutrition; xylem–phloem recycling; Citrus sinensis; Nerium oleander

Journal Article.  6123 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Evolutionary Biology ; Plant Sciences and Forestry

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