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Mysterious Mistletoe

Updated on August 7, 2015

Notes from a Lancashire Countryman

At this time of the year it is apt to review a plant that has become a major component in the festive activities. Who among us has not been kissed or given a kiss beneath a sprig of mistletoe? Who among us would not recognise these white berried sprigs when they are offered for sale in the various outlets at this time of the year?

However, how many would recognize the plant when it is growing in its twiggy home in the deciduoustrees that it tenants?. Here it forms dense pendulous spherical masses which can attain the width of 2.5 m in diameter.

Those who work in or are familiar with old traditional apple orchards would recognise this parasitic plant.. They tend to favour old apple trees but are not confined to them. They are known to grow on other deciduous trees such as lime, ash,hawthorn and silver birch among others. Records of it being found among the twigs of oak are quite rare and it seems to tenant trees with soft bark hence the preference for old apple trees.

The mistletoe species Viscum album is the only species that is native to Europe and the U.K. thus, it is the species that is under review in this particular article.



Basic Biology of Viscum Album

Mistletoe is only produced by means of the seeds and can not be cultivated in the traditional manner by being sown in soil or other terrestrial growing medium, as is the case with moth plants. The way mistletoe is regenerated by growers, one has to rub the viscid berries on to the under side of smooth bark until they adhere, or alternatively, being pushed into a cleft {often man made for the purpose} to hold the berries. The germination success is usually quite high from using either of the their methods. They may also come into contact with the bark by natural means for example by birds or by simply falling off when ripe.

After a few days of coming into contact with the bark the seed germinates. Eventually the root which is thread like bores in to the bark and becomes firmly anchored in the living wood. From this wood the root derives its nutrients and water which sustains the visible vegative growth we are familiar with.

Mistletoe is a true parasitic plant for at no stage in its development does it come into contact with soil or decaying bark/wood, as is the case with many species of fungi. Thus all the nutrients required for sustainable growth is procured from the living wood. The root becomes more substantial and woody has it matures.

From this root grows the stem which varies in colour from a yellowish green, to a greenish brown. The stem tends to fork at regular intervals. The leaves are opposite to each other in pairs that are superficially in shape to a small mammals ears. They are narrowly obovate being broader towards the end. they are borne on short stalks. They are leathery in texture and have smooth margins. The flowers are tiny and inconspicuous of a yellowish green colour. Male and female flowers occur on different plants thus they are dioecious.see Flowers Blooms and Blossoms

Mistletoe and apple trees

Mistletoe is associated with old apple trees
Mistletoe is associated with old apple trees | Source


The flowers are succeeded by the familiar white, pea sized, berries often in little groups of 3-6 borne in the axil of the leaves.

Folklore and Mistletoe

As previously mentioned the act of kissing beneath a sprig of mistletoe is common place. In archaic times a boy would kiss a girl or visa versa and then remove a berry from the twig. This activity could be continued until every berry was removed then the privilege afforded by the custom ceased.

In Greek legend the blind god Hoor, shot is brother, the god Baldr, with a mistletoe arrow. The Druidsheld the mistletoe in great esteem especially any plants that occupied an oak tree. This was gathered with ceremonious gatherings. The function was carried out at certain stages of the moon, when allegedly a vision would appear telling them the time was right Druids held the belief that the possessor of mistletoe would be protected from evil and utilised it in medicinal purposes, despite its toxic qualities.

They sent the the sprigs out with young people to welcome in the new year, for it was a living proof that life went on even in the darkest of winters. Hence they associated the plant with life and spiritual well being.


The Druid tradition of welcoming in the new year with mistletoe is evident  even on this card from much more recent times.
The Druid tradition of welcoming in the new year with mistletoe is evident even on this card from much more recent times.

Mistletoe and medicine.

Extract of mistletoe -Click on highlighted mistletoe to see view Arirchner's hub { well worth the time}. is sold as Iscador and other trade names.

Mistletoe has been utilised in the affliction of high blood pressure, respiratory ailments and even as aid to help with conventional treatments of cancer. However, it is not recommended for home made preparations and commercial products are readily available.

Associated with Some Other Trees

Mistletoe is associated with other trees such as the silver birch.
Mistletoe is associated with other trees such as the silver birch. | Source
Mistletoe must not be confused with witches broom, a growth caused by galls.
Mistletoe must not be confused with witches broom, a growth caused by galls. | Source

Mistletoe Threat

Conservation organisations such as the National Trustr are worried that the mistletoe may well disappear over the next two decades as their favoured host the "old" apple tree orchards are in decline. It is from such sources that the mistletoe sold at this time of year originates. Mistletoe needs to be managed. It needs to be cut back from time to time which encourages new growth. This also helps to sustain the host tree so that it does not get swamped with the plant which causes the host to suffer. In some cases the mistletoe can be so dominant as to kill the host tree.

Mistletoe, as previously mentioned , does grow on other trees such as ash and lime but it tends to grow high in the upper twigs making commercial gatherings very difficult if not impossible. The aim therefore is to conserve older apple orchards which will encourage managed conservation of both species. Thus the tradition of mistletoe and Christmas may continue for many years to come.


Phoradendron juniperum makes an impressive mass.
Phoradendron juniperum makes an impressive mass.


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      hi Becky Puetz it is more the old apple orchards that are diminishing that is the cause of concern as regards the mistletoe well being. Although they may well still grow in other trees they will become a lot less accessible. Thank you for your visit and taking the time to comment it is appreciated. Best wishes to you.

    • Becky Puetz profile image


      7 years ago from Oklahoma

      Very interesting information, I had no idea that mistletoe was a parasitic plant and endangered. I have always loved the folklore surrounding the plant :)Great Hub!

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      star439 thank you for taking the time to leave your kind comments. Merry Christmas to you, and best wishes for the new year.

    • stars439 profile image


      7 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

      Great hub, and lovely photographs. Happy Holidays. Merry Christmas.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      CheyenneAutumn, thank you so much for your kind comments and for taking the time to post them

    • CheyenneAutumn profile image


      7 years ago

      D.A.L. I loved reading this - it made me smile to have someone post about mistletoe - it is an awesome little parasite.

      About the tales of stealing the berries with each kiss - I have also heard that when all berries were gone a lucky couple was allowed to leave the party to go Un-escorted into the woods to get a new twig of berries. A rare treat in those times.

      Well done!

      Merry Christmas!

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      cwarden glad you dropped in and thank you for your appreciated comments. Best wishes to you.

    • cwarden profile image


      7 years ago from USA

      Great hub! I wasn't aware of all of these details about mistletoe and I'm very glad I dropped in! I have been hanging mistletoe in my doorway at Christmas time for many years and didn't know much about it. Thank you for putting all of this information together.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Darski, thank you for being the first to visit and for leaving your usual kind comments. Hope you and yours have a wonderful Christmas. Love and best wishes to you.

      L.L. Woodward, nice to meet you, it must be an awesome sight when it is so numerous. It is only the European species we have in Britain and it is sadly the decline in old orchards that is making the plant more uncommon. Best wishes to you.

      lindacee, nice to meet you too. They are impressive plants here in the U.K. they are rarely found on oak. Thank you for your kind comments, they are appreciated. Best wishes to you.

    • lindacee profile image


      7 years ago from Arizona

      I remember seeing mistletoe growing in the live oak trees in Louisiana where I grew up. I couldn't believe it when someone told me what it was!

    • L.L. Woodard profile image

      L.L. Woodard 

      7 years ago from Oklahoma City

      In rural Oklahoma, mistletoe is alive and thriving along many roads and in wooded areas. It is refreshing to see the bright green among the empty branches.

    • Darlene Sabella profile image

      Darlene Sabella 

      7 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

      Bravo, that one picture in the tree tops looks likes birds nests...Mistletoe I don't see much anymore during the holidays, but it was sure use full during our young holiday parties, there was always someome you would want to catch standing under a doorway. Great hub, I really enjoyed reading about his strange plant. Rate up and Happy holiday's to you my dear dear friend. Love & peace darski


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