When hung over a threshold, a sprig of mistletoe is a matchmaker; in the wild, the plant is a parasite known as the "thief of trees." Now, thanks to a recent study in Australia, mistletoe has a new reputation: forest savior. Field research indicates it's actually a beneficial plant, critical to a healthy ecosystem.
Mistletoe: the Parasite
Despite its efforts to keep a low profile—lurking, as it tends to do, deep in Southeast Asia's undisturbed rainforests—the Rafflesia arnoldii has international notoriety. Its detractors might call it a hulking, smelly parasite, and they would not be wrong. Also known as the "stinking corpse lily," the infamous plant blooms with the world's largest individual flowers that give off a noxious odor that happens to attract carrion beetles and flies (the plant's preferred jungle-dwelling pollinators).