Phoradendron californicum Nutt.
Phoradendron californicum Nutt. var. distans Trel.
Phoradendron californicum Nutt. var. leucocarpum (Trel.) Jeps.
Desert mistletoe, mesquite mistletoe
Desert mistletoe is native to desert regions of southwestern North America. It is hemiparasitic, getting some energy from photosynthesis and water and nutrients from a host plant.
Plants: From a distance, desert mistletoe looks a little like a weird bird’s nest—a concentrated, green or reddish-brown, vaguely spherical blob of small woody branchlets suspended in a tree. Many such blobs, each up to 3' (1 m) or so in size, may inhabit a single tree. Stems are silvery-green at first, finely hairy; later becoming hairless and green to reddish green.
Leaves: Practically nonexistent, ¹/₃₂-¹/₁₆" (1-2.5 mm) long, pressed flat against stems, quickly drying to appear as scales.
Flowers: Inconspicuous yellowish flowers appear during the winter.
Fruits: Copious, white to reddish, glabrous, about ⅛" (5 mm) around when fresh, shrinking to ⅛" (3 mm) later, turning translucent when ripe. They spread themselves by explosive dehiscence. If you have an image of small seed grenades going off, you have the right idea.
Edibility: Poisonous . Plants contain phoratoxins that increase blood pressure, cause convulsions, or cause cardiac arrest. Berries, however, are edible, provided the mistletoe is harvested from mesquite, ironwood, or catclaw acacia. Berries growing on palo verdes or desert buckthorn are inedible, presumably because of toxins absorbed from the host trees. Berries from safe trees are harvested when they turn translucent. They may be consumed raw, boiled or mashed into a pudding, or boiled to a paste with a bit of potash added.
Phoradendron californicum on CalPhotos
Phoradendron californicum on Wikipedia
Phoradendron californicum on SEINet—the Southwest Environmental Information Network
Phoradendron californicum at Southeastern Arizona Wildflowers and the Plants of the Sonoran Desert
Phoradendron californicum description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 25 May 2020.