Berea Professor offers $50 reward for proof of mistletoe in Grant County

Dec. 26, 2007


WILLIAMSTOWN, Ky. (AP) — Ralph Thompson has a bounty on a sprig of mistletoe.

Thompson is offering a $50 reward for proof that the parasitic, kiss-facilitating sprig grows in Grant County in northern Kentucky.

Thompson, a Berea College biology professor, and his students have searched the landscape of Kentucky for more than 20 years looking for mistletoe and have found it in 119 of the state’s 120 counties. Mistletoe from Grant County has remained elusive.

“They can’t report what they don’t have,” Thompson said. “But there’s got to be an old-timer somewhere that knows where that stuff is or has seen it. Since it’s so sparse there a lot of people probably don’t truly know what mistletoe is.”

Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties, bordering the Ohio River near Cincinnati, are near the northern edge of where American mistletoe grows. Kenton County was the 119th county where Thompson documented mistletoe. He found the plant growing near Rabbit Hash in Boone County and near St. Anne Convent in Campbell County.

Yet, despite previous appeals, few leads on mistletoe in Grant County have surfaced.

“There was this elderly man who had sold his farm and moved to Williamstown a couple years earlier,” Thompson said. “There was one tree that apparently had a clump in it. Of course it got cut down for lumber and that was the end of that.”

Mistletoe is a hemiparasite that gains water and nutrients from a tree, but it eventually kills the tree by obstructing its water sources.

Thompson’s research has found a variety of host trees for mistletoe, but many of the trees are not found in Grant County.

In addition to colder winters, Thompson believes the prevalence of red cedar, oak and hickory trees in Grant County inhibits mistletoe growth there.

“The terrain of the land and also being near the area that it gets colder in the winter just makes it not likely that it’s going to show up very much,” Thompson said.

Thompson and his students mount their mistletoe finds on special paper and store them at the Berea College Herbarium. Thompson said the mistletoe hunt gives his students something to do outside the classroom in winter.

“They enjoy it. They get authorship on the papers,” Thompson said.

But there is no payout like what Thompson is offering for information leading to the capture of Grant County mistletoe.

“I figured for $50 somebody would say, ‘Hey, I know where it’s at,’” he said.

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