There are approximately 65 genera
and 900 species distributed across the southern temperate and tropical region of
the world. Australia has 10 genera, with more than 80 species in two families, most of which are endemic.
Draping from trees and shrubs, the mistletoe can vary greatly between species,
although they are usually conspicuous to the host plant.
Leaves can be broad,
slender or absent, although variable, they are usually opposite, with some host-specific species having
leaves that do mimic the host.
The flowers have 4-6 petals, corolla tubular, fused
or sometimes split to the base, as found in Amyema.
The fruit of the different species are yellow, red, pink, white or black, and
are round, oval or pear-shaped, with
an central seed covered by a sticky pulp layer that helps the seed stick to
stems, as it is dispersed by birds feeding on the berry.
Found growing in all habitats throughout Australia, the mistletoe has even been
seen to parasitise each other. The mistletoes however, does rely on the
mistletoe bird to eat their fruits and voids the sticky seeds on live branches
and twigs, to enable the mistletoe to germinate. Other species of birds such as
the Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters have
also been witnessed eating the berries, assisting in the dispersal of the seeds.
Aborigines also eat the fruits of many types of mistletoe, especially those of
the Amyema and Lysiana species, though not all necessarily used.