Bastard-toadflaxes & Mistletoes

American Mistletoe Umbellate Bastard-toadflax Umbellate Bastard-toadflax American Mistletoe

What are they?

Bastard-toadflaxes (the name means false toadflax) and American Mistletoe are in the family Santalaceae, a family that contains a number of parasitic plants. The bastard-toadflaxes grow as root parasites, their stems tapping into the roots of other species to obtain nutrients from them. American Mistletoe grow high in the branches of forest trees, where birds haved rubbed off the sticky berries. Strictly speaking, these plants are actually only semi-parasitic as they have green stems and leaves and therefore are able to photosynthesize at least some of their own food. The word mistletoe is used for a number of species of parasitic and semi-parasitic plants though they are not all in the same family.

Where are they found?

The one species of Comandra that is found in Cape May is not uncommon in the county, especially in the north of the area. It grows as a parasite on blueberries and other members of the genus Vaccinium. American Mistletoe is uncommon to rare in our region and seems to be on the decline. It usually occurs high on the branches of large forest trees in wetland habitats in the north of Cape May county.


Bastard-toadflaxes usually grow in distinctive, tight clumps, the branches all arising straight from the ground. Typically, a single plant will have both four- and five-petalled flowers on the one plant (though plants can sometimes have only one type of flower). Mistletoes are evergreen and usually grow on deciduous trees, so are most readily seen in winter.

American Mistletoe      Phoradendron leucarpum

A scarce and declining species near the northeastern edge of its range in our area. Found growing as a parasite on tall forest trees in wet woodland. Flowers September to October. This is a very widespread species in North America and can be abundant in some areas in the southeast. In New Jersey however, it grows poorly and rarely seems to form the large, leafy masses that may be seen elsewhere. Its rather stunted appearance with us perhaps makes it easier to overlook and it may be more common than would appear from current sightings.
American Mistletoe American Mistletoe American Mistletoe American Mistletoe

Umbellate Bastard-toadflax      Comandra umbellata

Quite common in woodland and along roadsides in much of the county, wherever Vaccinium species grow. Flowers May to June.
Umbellate Bastard-toadflax Umbellate Bastard-toadflax Umbellate Bastard-toadflax Umbellate Bastard-toadflax
Typical leafy shoot
Note flower with
five petals
Note flower with
four petals
Seed capsule