Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Arceuthobium douglasii
(Douglas-fir dwarf mistletoe)



Arceuthobium douglasii (Douglas-fir dwarf mistletoe)


  • Last modified
  • 20 November 2019
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Pest
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Arceuthobium douglasii
  • Preferred Common Name
  • Douglas-fir dwarf mistletoe
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Dicotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • Arceuthobium spp. do not spread rapidly and cannot be considered highly invasive. They do, however, constitute a serious threat as a result of their ability to build up gradually over the life of a forest and cause severe damaging effects on a number...

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Male flowering shoots of A. douglasii on Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii).
TitleMale shoots
CaptionMale flowering shoots of A. douglasii on Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii).
Copyright©Jerome S. Beatty
Male flowering shoots of A. douglasii on Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii).
Male shootsMale flowering shoots of A. douglasii on Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). ©Jerome S. Beatty
Female shoots of A. douglasii fruiting on Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii).
TitleFemale shoots
CaptionFemale shoots of A. douglasii fruiting on Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii).
Copyright©Jerome S. Beatty
Female shoots of A. douglasii fruiting on Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii).
Female shootsFemale shoots of A. douglasii fruiting on Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). ©Jerome S. Beatty
Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) almost killed by A. douglasii.
TitleDamage symptoms
CaptionDouglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) almost killed by A. douglasii.
Copyright©Jerome S. Beatty
Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) almost killed by A. douglasii.
Damage symptomsDouglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) almost killed by A. douglasii.©Jerome S. Beatty


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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Arceuthobium douglasii Engelmann

Preferred Common Name

  • Douglas-fir dwarf mistletoe

Other Scientific Names

  • Razoumofskya douglasii (Engelmann) Kuntze

EPPO code

  • AREDO (Arceuthobium douglasii)

Summary of Invasiveness

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Arceuthobium spp. do not spread rapidly and cannot be considered highly invasive. They do, however, constitute a serious threat as a result of their ability to build up gradually over the life of a forest and cause severe damaging effects on a number of important forest species.

Their potential to establish in other areas is limited by the need for the living parasite to survive on the pathway and reproduce after entry. Nevertheless, the risk of economic impact is considerable if host species are available. The conifers at greatest risk would be species, known to be hosts, planted as exotics in other continents, but there is also a certain possibility of spread to related species, not known to be hosts.

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Dicotyledonae
  •                     Order: Santalales
  •                         Family: Viscaceae
  •                             Genus: Arceuthobium
  •                                 Species: Arceuthobium douglasii

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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A detailed discussion of the taxonomy and taxonomic history of the genus Arceuthobium is provided by Hawksworth and Wiens (1996). The genus Arceuthobium is a member of the plant family Viscaceae and is a clearly defined group of small (generally less than 20 cm high), variously coloured flowering plants that are aerial parasites on conifers of the families Pinaceae and Cupressaceae. They are considered to be the most evolutionarily specialized genus of the family Viscaceae. Arceuthobium has been previously included in the subfamily Viscoideae of the family Loranthaceae, but the subfamilies Loranthoideae and Viscoideae are now generally considered to have family status (Loranthaceae and Viscaceae).

A. douglasii is a member of subgenus Vaginata, section Vaginata, series Minuta.


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Like other Arceuthobium spp., A. douglasii is an obligate parasite with an endophytic 'root' system ramifying within the host branch. This endophyte expands within the cortex and becomes embedded in the xylem for some years before aerial shoots are produced, encircling the infected branch and growing along it. A. douglasii is the smallest dwarf mistletoes in western North America. It is a very small plant, averaging about 2 cm high but up to 8 cm., generally with secondary branching. It is an olive-green colour, typically infecting its host systemically and producing large witches' brooms. Flowers are usually axillary, occasionally borne on pedicel-like segments. Staminate (male) flowers are 2.0 mm long and 2.3 mm across; perianth mostly 3-merous (occasionally 2-merous or 4-merous). Pistillate (female) flowers are 1.5 mm long and 1.5 mm across. The mature fruit is olove-green, 3-5 - 4-4 mm ong, 1.5 - 2.0 mm wide, obovate. Seeds are 2.4 x 1.1 mm (Hawksworth and Wiens, 1996).

A polymerase cahin reaction (PCR) method has recently been developed to detect A. douglasii at the concealed endophyte phase of its development in P. menziesii (Marler et al., 1999).

Plant Type

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Seed propagated


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A. douglasii occurs mainly in a broad band running from Washington, USA, to Arizona, USA, and northern Mexico (Chihuahua, Durango, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon). Altitudinal range is correlated with latitude; this species occurs as low as 30 m in Canada and as high as 3250 m in Mexico.

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Last updated: 12 May 2022
Continent/Country/Region Distribution Last Reported Origin First Reported Invasive Reference Notes



North America

CanadaPresent, Localized
-British ColumbiaPresentNativeInvasive
MexicoPresent, LocalizedNativeInvasive
United StatesPresent, Localized
-New MexicoPresentNativeInvasive
-TexasPresent, LocalizedNativeInvasive

Risk of Introduction

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The risk presented by Arceuthobium spp. introductions into other areas of the world is related to the availability of their hosts. The most obvious risk arises from the fact that several North American hosts (for example Pinus contorta, P. ponderosa, Tsuga spp. and Pseudotsuga menziesii) have been more or less widely planted in other continents, in the absence of these mistletoes (curiously, Pinus radiata, one of the North American pines most widely planted around the world, is hardly reported as an Arceuthobium host, nor is Picea sitchensis, much planted in parts of Europe). Conversely, the European or Asian hosts of Arceuthobium have not been substantially planted outside their natural range. A secondary risk is that, although in their natural range Arceuthobium spp. occur rather rarely on species other than their main hosts, there is limited data suggesting that they may readily infect some exotic species. There is accordingly a certain risk that Arceuthobium spp. may spread to and affect such exotic hosts if they are introduced into other continents, e.g. P. sylvestris in Europe, Juniperus virginiana in North America.

The risk of accidental introduction is already well recognized and trade in conifer plants is correspondingly controlled in many countries. Exotic Arceuthobium species are also specifically listed as prohibited imports in the European Union, other European countries, Australia, New Zealand, Turkey, Tanzania and no doubt many others. North American countries similarly restrict import of conifers.


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A. douglasii is limited to forests in which its specific host Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menzesii) is present in substantial numbers.

Habitat List

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Terrestrial ManagedManaged forests, plantations and orchards Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalNatural forests Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)

Hosts/Species Affected

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A. douglasii occasionally parasitizes conifers other than the principal host, Douglas fir, when grown nearby. These are: Abies concolor, A. grandis, A. lasiocarpa, A. amabilis, Picea engelmannii, and P. pungens. Other than Pinus mezesii, only A. lasiocarpa var. arizonica appears to be seriously affected by A. douglasii. Recently, A. bifolia has been found to be susceptible (Mathiasen, 1999). Pseudotsuga macrocarpa is not a host.

Host Plants and Other Plants Affected

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Plant nameFamilyContextReferences
Abies amabilis (Pacific silver fir)PinaceaeOther
Abies bifoliaPinaceaeOther
Abies lasiocarpa var. arizonicaPinaceaeOther
Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas-fir)PinaceaeMain

Growth Stages

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Vegetative growing stage

List of Symptoms/Signs

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SignLife StagesType
Stems / distortion
Stems / witches broom

Biology and Ecology

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Chromosome number 2n = 28 (Hawksworth and Wiens, 1996).

Physiology and Phenology

A. douglasii, like other Arceuthobium spp., is an obligate parasite, depending on an endophytic system within the host branch to draw water and nutrients from its hosts. The seedling shows negative phototropism, causing it to bore directly into the host shoot, even from below. Seedlings of most Arceuthobium spp. can only penetrate young branches less than 5 years old. Most Arceuthobium spp. have no phloem tissue. Transfer of nutrients, including sugars, may depend on close association of host and parasite parenchyma cells, and apoplastic movement via the walls of these cells. Graniferous tracheary elements could also be involved (see Hawksworth and Wiens (1996), for detailed discussion on this topic).

Photosynthesis in Arceuthobium spp. is apparently important in supporting the seedling as it germinates and attaches, but for the next 2-7 years (usually 3-4) of its life, the parasite persists only as the endophyte inside the host tissue without any aerial shoot. Even after emergence of the aerial shoots, the established parasite has a relatively low photosynthetic capacity, usually much less than 50% of 'normal'.

Once emerged, the parasite shoots produce fruits annually, for at least 2 years, and often for 5 years or more (Hawksworth and Wiens, 1996).

Reproductive Biology

Like other Arceuthobium spp., A. douglasii is dioecious. Pollination appears to be predominantly due to insects (especially ants and flies) but may also occur by wind (Hawksworth and Wiens, 1996). Staminate meiosis occurs in September and pistillate meiosis in April (Jones and Gordon, 1965) Peak anthesis is usually in April or May (Hawksworth and Wiens, 1996). However, this species exhibits a marked latitudinal variation in flowering - March in Mexico, late April to early May in Arizona and New Mexico, late May in Colorado, Utah, Oregon, and early to mid-June in Washington, nort Idaho and Montana (Hawksworth and Wiens, 1996). In contrast, fruit maturity is more uniform and usually occurs from late August to late September throughout the distribution. The fruit maturation period averages 17-18 month and seeds germinate in March. No true seed is formed, as there is no testa, but the embryo is embedded in chlorophyllous endosperm, surrounded by viscin. This will be referred to as a seed for convenience. The embryo of Arcethobium spp. is green, a few millimetres long, and has a meristematic radicular apex without a root cap. Dispersal of the seed is exceptional, involving a hydrostatic, explosive process which expels the seed at least 10 m. Most dispersal occurs as temperatures rise and humidity declines in the morning. The viscin ensures that it is retained by any host shoot that is hit, but if this is a needle, it may slide down with gravity to the base of the needle and germinate there. Although this is the main means of dispersal over a short range, long-distance dispersal also occurs as a result of seeds sticking to birds or mammals. However, any seeds that are ingested by animals are destroyed. Seeds of Arceuthobium spp. do not generally show dormancy and germination normally occurs in the first season after dispersal, though seeds may retain dormancy for 1-4 years when stored in ideal conditions.

Environmental Requirements

The main environmental constraint on an Arceuthobium sp. is the presence of its host, which is in turn determined by multiple environmental requirements. The different North American species most obviously differ in the latitudinal limits of their range, from those that occur in Canada and northern states of the USA, to those which are confined to Mexico, with all intermediates. Species also differ from those with an essentially coastal distribution to those with a continental distribution. The relevant factors further interact to determine an altitudinal range, reflecting the fact that conifers form a distinctive element of montane vegetation. Soil conditions have practically no importance.


Studies in Oregon, USA (Parks et al., 1999) show that retaining brooms due to A. douglasii infections in stands of Pseudotsuga menziesii is important to provide nesting, foraging, resting and roosting habitats for mammals and birds.

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

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Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude Lower (m)Altitude Upper (m)
30 3250

Air Temperature

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Parameter Lower limit Upper limit
Mean annual temperature (ºC) 1 15
Mean maximum temperature of hottest month (ºC) 18 32
Mean minimum temperature of coldest month (ºC) -26 -2


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ParameterLower limitUpper limitDescription
Dry season duration120number of consecutive months with <40 mm rainfall
Mean annual rainfall3801150mm; lower/upper limits

Rainfall Regime

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Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Caliciopsis arceuthobii Pathogen Fruits|pods

Notes on Natural Enemies

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In certain years, Caliciopsis arceuthobii destroys over 90% of fruits of A. douglasii.

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Natural Dispersal (Non-Biotic)

Natural dispersal of Arceuthobium spp. is by the explosive fruits, which can expel the seeds at speeds of 2.6 m/s up to a 15 m distance (Hinds and Hawksworth, 1965). In spite of this, the natural spread may not exceed about 1.5m/annum (Hawksworth, 1958).

Vector Transmission (Biotic)

Seeds of Arceuthobium spp. falling onto the plumage of birds, or the fur of animals, tend to stick and may be dispersed for long distances. About 7% of birds and mammals trapped, carried seeds, or as high as 22% during the 2-week period of maximum seed release (Hawksworth and Johnson, 1989).

Agricultural Practices

Logging and movement of wood which has not been completely de-barked, can result in movement of complete plants of Arceuthobium, or transfer of seeds and establishment of new infestations.

Accidental Introduction

Accidental introduction of Arceuthobium spp. into new areas or continents does not appear very likely. Seeds are short-lived, and unlikely to reach a host tree under circumstances in which they could develop. Conifer plants could carry living mistletoe plants, especially in the prolonged endophytic stage before the external plant develops, but young plants, as normally traded, are not very likely to be infected. Mistletoes could be carried on cut branches, including Christmas trees and possibly on logs with bark (though mistletoes normally occur on the branches of trees, not on trunks). But it seems unlikely that mistletoes borne on cut, dead plants present any risk of transmission. Accordingly, introduction can relatively easily be prevented. The prohibition of import of plants for planting of the main host genera (as established, for example, in the phytosanitary regulations of the European Union) blocks the only really dangerous pathway.

Intentional Introduction

Intentional introduction seems extremely unlikely, other than for research.

Plant Trade

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Plant parts not known to carry the pest in trade/transport
Fruits (inc. pods)
Growing medium accompanying plants
Seedlings/Micropropagated plants
Stems (above ground)/Shoots/Trunks/Branches
True seeds (inc. grain)

Impact Summary

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Animal/plant collections None
Animal/plant products None
Biodiversity (generally) Positive
Crop production None
Environment (generally) None
Fisheries / aquaculture None
Forestry production Negative
Human health None
Livestock production None
Native fauna Positive
Native flora None
Rare/protected species None
Tourism None
Trade/international relations Negative
Transport/travel None


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Arceuthobium species as a whole are regarded as some of the most serious of all pests/diseases of North American forests. Dwarf mistletoes are much more damaging to their hosts than the 'green' mistletoes in both Loranthaceae and Viscaceae. Having little photosynthetic capacity, they draw more heavily on host carbohydrate, and furthermore interfere with photosynthate translocation to the roots. The mistletoe has a girdling effect, resulting in an accumulation of photosynthate above the site of infection. Apparently carbohydrates are withheld from the roots in quantities sufficient to cause the characteristic decline of the tree (Rediske and Shea, 1961; Hawksworth and Wiens, 1996). There are also severe growth-regulatory effects resulting from cytokinin production at the point of infection and the redirection of host photosynthate into the resulting witches broom growths. These distort and suppress growth of branches and even the main trunk. Wood quality is further affected as a result of swellings, witches' brooms and knots, and structural weakening associated with shortened, distorted tracheids.

A. douglasii is causes severe loss of growth and mortality of Pseudotsuga menziesii in western North America.

Risk and Impact Factors

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  • Invasive in its native range
  • Highly mobile locally
  • Has high reproductive potential
Impact outcomes
  • Negatively impacts agriculture
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Difficult/costly to control

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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A. douglasii is similar to the other very small Arceuthobium spp. but not A. pusillum, which has no secondary branching.

Prevention and Control

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Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.

It has been noted (Hadfield and Flanagan, 2000) that pruning of P. menziesii to remove A. douglasii makes the trees more susceptible to attack by the bark beetle Dendroctonus pseudotsugae.

Cultural Control

In the absence of any simple direct means of control of dwarf mistletoes, and the vast areas of forest involved, cultural management is virtually the only approach to the problem, the techniques varying according to the type of stand in which the problem occurs. Management options listed by Hawksworth and Johnson (1989) include:

- Survey

- Use RMYLD model to predict yields (Edminster, 1978; Hawksworth, 1978)

- Favour or plant resistant tree species

- Prune infected branches and witches' brooms

- Destroy the whole stand (including the use of fire) and regenerate

- Fell non-merchantable infected trees

- Sanitation thin

- Harvest and regenerate the stand

- Do nothing.

Hawksworth and Johnson (1989) also refer to mechanisms to help prevent infection, including the use of natural or man-made barriers (roads, streams, strips of non-susceptible forest) to reduce (re)invasion from adjacent infested stands; and removing infected trees before re-planting/regeneration.

Detailed surveys are an essential ingredient of successful control programmes and the 6-class rating system (Hawksworth, 1977) is widely accepted as a standard. This involves a 0-6 score based on 0, 1 or 2 for each third (lower, middle, upper) of the tree; 0 for no infection, 1 for light infection (less than half the branches affected) or 2 for heavy infection (more than half infected).

In recently harvested, regenerating stands, the emphasis is on the complete removal of any infected trees over 2 m, regardless of commercial value, both within the stand, and along borders to a distance of 18 m, before the regeneration is 1 m high.

In pre-commercial stands in which surveys show less than 40% infected trees, it should be economic to practice selective thinning to remove all those infected. Above 40% this is unlikely to be economic. Severely infested stands may best be harvested early and regenerated, but decisions may require use of available models to help devise the most economic option. Some of the available models are described by Muir and Geils (2002).

Dwarf mistletoes may contribute in various ways to biodiversity - by creating openings in the forest following tree death, by providing nesting sites in the 'brooms' and by providing food for a range of vertebrates and invertebrates. There can therefore be some conflict between the requirements of forest exploitation, and environmental concerns.

Mechanical Control

Pruning may be appropriate as a means of reducing damage to individual trees, but more generally to reduce the source of infection for surrounding trees. The practicality, however, is that it will only be feasible in particular amenity and recreation areas.

Clear-felling (with or without fire) is appropriate where a stand is so severely infested that it needs to be abandoned and regenerated or re-planted.

Chemical Control

The only chemical approved for use against dwarf mistletoes is the ethylene-releasing growth regulator, ethephon, which can cause abscission of the shoots and delay fresh seeding for 2-4 years, but there is eventual re-growth from the endophyte. Preliminary results from applications of ethephon to to A. douglasii on Pseudotsuga menzesii in Oregon gave shoot abscission rates of 90-100% when spray coverage is thorough. However, it is difficult to achieve good coverage in larger trees from the ground, whereas applications from the air fail to penetrate the canopy adequately. The treatment is therefore of interest mainly for high-value amenity trees.

Biological Control

Caliciopsis arceuthobii, Cylindrocarpon gillii and Glomerella cingulata are major fungal parasites of Arceuthobium in North America that have been found on A. douglasii in Canada and the USA.

Integrated Control

Hawksworth and Johnson (1989) emphasise the importance of integrating dwarf mistletoe control with measures to reduce damage from the mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae).


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Edminster CB, 1978. RMYLD: computation of yield tables for even-aged and two-storied stands. Research Paper RM-199, Fort Collins, USA: United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

EPPO, 2014. PQR database. Paris, France: European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organization.

Geils BW; Tovar JC; Moody B; (technical coordinators), 2002. Mistletoes of North American Conifers. General Technical Report RMRS-GTR-98. Ogden, USA: United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

Hadfield JS; Flanagan PT, 2000. Dwarf mistletoe pruning may induce Douglas-fir beetle attacks. Western Journal of Applied Forestry, 15(1):34-36; 16 ref.

Hawksworth FG, 1958. Rate of spread and intensification of dwarf mistletoe in young Lodgepole Pine stands. Journal of Forestry, 56:404-407.

Hawksworth FG, 1977. The 6-class dwarf mistletoe rating system. USDA Forest Service General Technical Report, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, No. RM-48:7 pp.

Hawksworth FG, 1978. Intermediate cuttings in mistletoe-infested lodgepole pine and southwestern ponderosa pine stands. General Technical Report, Pacific Southwest Forest and Range Experiment Station, No. PSW-31:86-92

Hawksworth FG; Johnson DW, 1989. Biology and management of dwarf mistletoe in lodgepole pine in the Rocky Mountains. General Technical Report - Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, USDA Forest Service, No. RM-169:ii + 38 pp.

Hawksworth FG; Wiens D, 1996. Dwarf Mistletoes: Biology, Pathology, and Systematics. Agriculture Handbook 709. Washington DC, USA: United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

Hinds TE; Hawksworth FG, 1965. Seed dispersal velocity in four dwarf mistletoes. Science, 148:517-519.

Jones B; Gordon CC, 1965. Embryology and development of the endosperm haustorium of Arceuthobium douglasii. American Journal of Botany, 52: 127-132.

Marler M; Pedersen D; Mitchell-Olds T; Callaway RM, 1999. A polymerase chain reaction method for detecting dwarf mistletoe infection in douglas-fir and western larch. Canadian Journal of Forest Research, 29(9):1317-1321; 19 ref.

Mathiasen RL, 1999. Comparative susceptibility of subalpine firs to Douglas-fir dwarf mistletoe. Canadian Journal of Plant Pathology, 21(1):45-51; 28 ref.

Muir JA; Geils BW, 2002. Management strategies for dwarf mistletoe: silviculture. General Technical Report - Rocky Mountain Research Station, USDA Forest Service, No. RMRS-GTR-98:83-94.

Parks CG; Bull EL; Tinnin RO; Shepherd JF; Blumton AK, 1999. Wildlife use of dwarf mistletoe brooms in Douglas-fir in northeast Oregon. Western Journal of Applied Forestry, 14(2):100-105

Rediske JH; Shea KR, 1961. The production and translocation of photosynthate in dwarf mistletoe and Lodgepole Pine. American Journal of Botany, 48:447-452.

Distribution References

CABI, Undated. CABI Compendium: Status as determined by CABI editor. Wallingford, UK: CABI

EPPO, 2022. EPPO Global database. In: EPPO Global database, Paris, France: EPPO. 1 pp.

Hawksworth FG, Wiens D, 1996. Dwarf Mistletoes: Biology, Pathology, and Systematics. In: Agriculture Handbook 709, Washington DC, USA: United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

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