- 5 fascinating things you (probably) didn’t know about mistletoe
- Where to buy mistletoe
- More facts about mistletoe
- The Fix
- The Many Uses of Mistletoe
- Places That Sell Mistletoe
- In Summary
- Mistletoe Care & Advice
- Harvesting and Selling Mistletoe for Profit
- The mistletoe mystery: It sprouts magically from the branches of random trees – but why only certain species, and how does it spread? Monty Don has the answers…
- Pucker Up: Five Fast Facts About Mistletoe
- Where to Buy Real Mistletoe
- Buy Real Mistletoe Online
- Where to Buy Artificial Mistletoe
- Buy Artificial Mistletoe Online
This is a typical Mistletoe. It’s not a true parasite – it’s semi-parasitic. It’s got chlorophyll in its leaves, it manufactures its own food and the only reason it needs a host is to provide it with support and it uses the host as its own root system.
The fruit are generally brightly coloured and the flesh is sweet and tasty. Each fruit has one large seed and is covered with a sticky coat. Birds enjoy eating these fruit, but they have to wipe the seed, either off their beaks or off their bottoms onto the branches after feeding. Now the seed rapidly germinates, sending a root into the host plant and it plumbs itself into the sap flow for life.
Mistletoes will grow in a wide range of trees. Some of their favourites include Eucalypts, Banksias, Wattles, Mangroves and this – Casuarina. If you want to look for them, you’ll have to look up in the canopy cause that’s where most of them will grow and sometimes that can be difficult because they often mimic the foliage of their host tree. And this is a fantastic example.
Despite their bad reputation, Mistletoes can be important – even beneficial. Their flowers, fruit, nectar and leaves are all highly nutritious and a wide range of wildlife depend on them – koalas, sugargliders, possums, birds and other insects.
If you have masses of Mistletoe, occasionally trees will die, but usually the cause of death is drought or old age. To remove them, you just look for the point of attachment and prune the branch behind that. Now this Crepe Myrtle’s only got 4 Mistletoes on it. It’s perfectly healthy. All the gardener here need do is to enjoy the fact they’ve got 2 plants and not one.
Parasites aren’t all bad and Mistletoes deserve a rethink. If you study them, you’ll discover that they’re valuable and fascinating Australian plants.
5 fascinating things you (probably) didn’t know about mistletoe
Mistletoe is a common name for many plants in the order Santalales. There is one native species in the UK Viscum albums, which is often best spotted during winter when many other plants have lost their leaves.
Although mistletoe is found across the UK, the majority of the country’s population is found in the southwest Midlands. Climate change and birds such as blackcaps and mistle thrushes may help this Christmas icon spread across the UK. Blackcaps adore mistletoe berries, and those that visit the UK for the winter from Germany and Austria devour the autumn-ripening fruit. After eating the flesh, they wipe off the sticky seeds on the branches of trees, sowing the seeds of future harvests.
Information on mistletoe surveys can be found at surveys.mistletoe.org.uk, although records can also be submitted to general wildlife recording schemes.
What does mistletoe live on?
Mistletoe is a hemi (partial) parasite which attaches to a tree via suckers roots and absorbs some water and nutrients from its host plant. However, it also produces some of its own food via photosynthesis in its green leaves.
It can be found on a variety of host plants including apple, lime, poplar, sycamore, ash and hawthorn. However it is rarely found on oak.
Mistletoe growing in a tree. © T Bradford/Getty 2
Does mistletoe harm the host tree its living on?
As the mistletoe is taking nutrients away from the tree, it will reduce the development of the branches on which it grows.
If there are a lot of mistletoe plants on a relatively small tree, the tree may be affected: increasing the risk of wind-blow and water stress, and reducing the fruit crop. If this is the case, the mistletoe can be managed so that both plants are kept healthy.
What are the male and females parts on mistletoe?
Unlike many plants which are both male and female, mistletoe is in a group of plants that are dioecious. This means that plants are either male or female. It is the female plants that have the white berries.
Mistletoe berries are found on the female plant. © Runis/Getty 4
Are there any traditions and lore surrounding mistletoe?
Baldur, one of the Norse gods and the son of Frigg and Odin, was slain by Loki with a weapon made of mistletoe. Frigg had made everything on earth taken an oath never to harm Baldur, who had been haunted by dreams of his own death. Realising that mistletoe had left out mistletoe, the trickster god Loki created a weapon from the plant and killed Baldur (although he actually tricked Baldur’s blind brother, Hour to do the killing). Baldur’s death was the first in a chain of events which lead to Ragnarök.
In the Middle Ages, it was believed that mistletoe have a variety of magical properties such as stopping the trances of epileptics and keeping witches at bay / warding off evil.
It was believed by the Victorians that the seeds of the mistletoe would only germinate is they passed through a mistle thrush. Although not true, research has shown that when seeds do pass through a bird’s guts, they will germinate faster.
A sprig of mistletoe is traditionally hung above the door and a berry removed with each kiss.
Due to mistletoe’s association with paganism, the plant is sometimes banned from Christmas decorations.
Mistletoe is celebrated with the Mistletoe Festival in Tenbury Wells – the ‘Capital of English Mistletoe’, and by National Mistletoe Day (usually the first Saturday in December).
Which animals are found on mistletoe?
There are a number of insects which are only found on mistletoe, including mistletoe marble moth (Celypha woodiana) and a bug (Anthocoris visci).
Mistletoe has a bad reputation in Australia as it’s a sap sucking plant that requires a host tree, but there are a few reasons to celebrate if you’ve spotted the bright red, octopus-shaped flowers of the Mistletoe in your area.
Many people assume Mistletoe is an introduced tree, but there are ninety species of Mistletoe in Australia and seventy of these are native.
Many Australian animals will feed on mistletoe. This plant is more nutritious than the trees they live in and the nectar and fruit is loved by native birds such as honeyeaters, lorikeets, bowerbirds, emus and cockatoos, as well as the Mistletoe Bird. If there are Mistletoe in your area, you’re likely to spot native birds more often.
Mistletoe Birds are native to Australia and are also called the Australian Flowerpecker. They live all across mainland Australia, wherever the Mistletoe grows. These birds love to eat Mistletoe fruit and are the main distributor of its sticky seeds – which they wipe on tree branches after they’ve digested them. The seed then germinates in its host tree, which it needs to provide support and water. They are only semi-parasitic plants as they can make their own food.
Mistletoe Birds aren’t the only ones who love the Mistletoe. Koalas, sugar gliders and possums also feed on the fruit and bright orangey red flowers.
Koalas, sheep, cattle and insects will all eat the leaves. Over 25 species of butterflies feed on Mistletoes during their caterpillar stage.
Mistletoe is more than a food source – it also provides perfect shelter habitat. Birds often nest in dense, leafy clumps of Mistletoe, which protects them from bad weather and predators.
Mistletoe helps with pest control by attracting insect-eating birds and possums, which eat beetles and insects that chew up gum trees.
Did you know?
Mistletoes are able to mimic the host tree they are living in. Sometimes the mimicry is so close that they are almost impossible to detect.
Mistletoe helps maintain ecosystems, but can get out of control in areas where land has been widely cleared. You can help bring the Mistletoe back into balance by fencing the host tree from livestock to encourage regeneration and reduce soil compaction, and by planting native plants underneath the host tree to provide habitat for Mistletoe predators. You can also put up nesting boxes to encourage natural animal predators of the Mistletoe such as possums and gliders.
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Hanging mistletoe is a tradition come the holiday season—everyone knows that if you’re standing under the mistletoe with someone, it means you’re supposed to kiss. (Fun fact: Kissing under the mistletoe is actually a tradition that dates all the way back to ancient Greece, partly because the plant is associated with fertility.) But even if you don’t follow that particular tradition, hanging mistletoe and holly can make your home look more festive—and who doesn’t want that this holiday season?
If you’re looking to pick up some fresh mistletoe this year, here’s where you should go (disclaimer: There’s no guarantee that any of these stores will have mistletoe, but they’re your most likely options).
- Lowe’s, Home Depot, or your local major home improvement store.
- Walmart, if your store has a garden area.
- Your local Christmas shop or tree farm.
- Your local florist.
However, there are a couple of places where you can find fresh mistletoe online and available for purchase. You can order real mistletoe from Triumph Plant. It might also be worth checking out Amazon—it might be a challenge to find, but you can buy plants on Amazon, and the company will soon be selling Christmas trees, too.
If you’re okay with (or prefer!) artificial mistletoe that you can reuse year after year, check out some options below.
Kurt Adler Artificial Mistletoe Pick Amazon $5.95 Rustic Christmas Mistletoe Etsy etsy.com $30.99 Burlap-Wrapped Artificial Mistletoe Bunch Amazon $12.99 Mistletoe Williams Sonoma williams-sonoma.com $14.95
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Brittney Morgan Associate Market Editor, House Beautiful Brittney Morgan is House Beautiful’s Associate Market Editor, a noted land mermaid, and a Virgo with a penchant for crafts, red lipstick, and buying way too many throw pillows.
One of the many confusing, but long-standing Christmas traditions is the hanging of mistletoe and the subsequent kissing underneath it.
There’s more than one theory about why mistletoe is linked to kissing. The plant was sacred for the Druids, as it was believed to have the power to heal diseases, provide fertility, protect from witchcraft and bring good luck.
What I Own: Tristan, 26, who paid a £11,500 deposit for a three-bedroom home in Strood
It held such significant meaning that enemies who met under mistletoe in a forest would lay down their weapons, exchange a friendly greeting and cease fighting until the next day.
This old tradition is said to have grown into the practice of hanging mistletoe over a doorway as a symbol of peace and goodwill to all who enter.
The most popular tale is the Norse legend describing how Balder, son of the goddess Frigga, was plagued by dreams predicting his death. His mother ensured everything living or growing in the earth would never harm him.
However, she overlooked mistletoe, as it doesn’t grow in the ground – so Loki got Balder killed by an evil spirit with an arrow made of it.
Frigga wept tears of white berries which, in some versions of the tale, brought Balder back to life. Frigga was so overjoyed that she blessed the plant, announcing that it should be a symbol of peace and friendship and promising a kiss to all who passed beneath it from then on.
This tale inspired the ancient tradition where visitors would kiss the hand of their host under the mistletoe upon arrival, as a way of remembering the story.
Where to buy mistletoe
The best place to find mistletoe will be in your local florist.
If you are looking for it in the wild, ‘it is found in the south and West Midlands of the UK, specifically in Hertfordshire and Worcestershire,’ according to Interflora.
‘You’ll most commonly find mistletoe in apple, hawthorn, poplar, lime, rowan, willow and conifer trees. ‘
More facts about mistletoe
- The plant was given the name ‘mistletan’. This can be broken down into the Old English word ‘mistel’, which is the word for poo, and ‘tan’, the plural of ‘ta’, which means ‘stick’. In other words, mistletoe means ‘poo on a stick’.
- Mistletoe is a parasitic plant, so depends on another for survival
- It’s highly toxic for humans – but birds and other wildlife can eat the berries
- Around 20 species of mistletoe are endangered, out of around 1,300 species worldwide
- Mistletoe can be male and female – we hang female mistletoe in our houses at Christmas, which has berries
The daily lifestyle email from Metro.co.uk.
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What is mistletoe? The plant, which is actually a parasite, has long been considered mystical. Why? It was said that the plant itself aided in fertility. Since it was used in practices related to the winter solstice, it became integrated into holiday decor. Kissing under the mistletoe began with the Greeks, who wanted a newly wed couple to have greater fertility.
The Many Uses of Mistletoe
Mistletoe comes in many forms, including artificial, real, and dried, and has its uses year-round. There are many ways to use mistletoe. Artificial mistletoe can be used in multiple holiday crafts and for various decorating ideas. Mistletoe is often seen in holiday garlands, wreaths, and kissing balls, which make beautiful decorations for holiday parties or winter weddings. Since mistletoe has long been one of the symbols of Christmas, you’ll also see it on plates, linens, tableware, and other holiday themed items.
Places That Sell Mistletoe
- Types of mistletoe available: If there’s an item not found on Amazon, does it really exist? Mistletoe is no exception, and you’ll find the plant available on the website all year long. There’s artificial mistletoe in the form of sprigs, kissing balls, ornaments, plants, and even mistletoe extract. You’ll find fresh mistletoe cut and ready to ship any time of year.
- When is it available? Year-round
- Shop Amazon online for all types of mistletoe themed items including the plants themselves
- Types of mistletoe available: Some Walmart stores include real mistletoe in their stores. Check inside the Garden area where plants and fertilizers are sold. The store also carries artificial mistletoe in the form of garlands, decorations, and other Christmas items such as ornaments and swag. These are typically found in the store’s designated Christmas section. Most Walmart stores begin putting out Christmas decorations well before Halloween, generally around the beginning of October.
- When is it available? Seasonally (October through January)
- Shop Walmart online for mistletoe and mistletoe decorations
- Find the nearest Walmart
The Home Depot
- Types of mistletoe available: There are rumors that some years and at some locations, Home Depot sells fresh mistletoe. This varies from store to store depending on your location, so check with individual stores specifically to find out if real mistletoe is available in your area. If not, Home Depot carries artificial mistletoe seasonally, including mistletoe decorations, potted artificial mistletoe, decorative mistletoe topiaries, wreaths, and other holiday accents. Mistletoe is available from roughly October to after Christmas in these and other forms. Home Depot even carries a paint color called Mistletoe.
- When is it available? Seasonally (October through January)
- Shop Home Depot online for mistletoe and related decorations
- Find the nearest Home Depot
- Types of mistletoe available: Though you can’t purchase real mistletoe through this site, there are so many decorative options if you’re looking for a way to incorporate the plant into your holiday home decorating. You can purchase these items year-round on Etsy, including mistletoe themed kissing balls, silk mistletoe decorations, mistletoe wreaths, and even cute themed items like linens, cards, jewelry, and hair accessories.
- When is it available? Year-round
- Shop Etsy online for many mistletoe options that are handmade and unique, including artificial mistletoe home decorations.
- Types of mistletoe available: Craft and seasonal store Michaels offers multiple mistletoe options during the holidays only, generally from October to January in stores and online. The store doesn’t sell fresh mistletoe, but offers craft mistletoe in a variety of configurations for decoration or crafting purposes. Michaels also offers many seasonal promotions and coupons to make shopping less costly throughout the holidays. Put together your own decorations if you’re crafty, or opt for already made wreaths, swags, and ornaments featuring the seasonal plant.
- When is it available? Seasonally (October through January)
- Shop Michaels online for mistletoe themed items throughout the holidays.
- Find the nearest Michaels
Bed Bath & Beyond
- Types of mistletoe available: This store offers a multitude of holiday offerings featuring mistletoe. In the off season, you can find mistletoe home linens including sheets, pillows, and some holiday themed plateware. You’ll see more mistletoe decorations, wreaths, and ornaments during the holiday stocking season, which runs from October through January. The store doesn’t offer fresh mistletoe, but do offer a variety of mistletoe decorations and even serveware and entertaining pieces such as plates and napkins.
- When is it available? Seasonally (October through January) though plateware is available online year-round
- Shop Bed Bath & Beyond online.
- Find the nearest Bed Bath & Beyond
- Types of mistletoe available: Lowe’s is a home improvement store that stocks artificial and fresh mistletoe. You can use either for decorative purposes. These items aren’t available until the holiday season for purchase, but once the store stocks mistletoe, you can purchase in store or online at your convenience. During the season, the store offers decorations that include artificial mistletoe, such as hanging mistletoe balls and wreaths.
- When is it available? Seasonally (October through January)
- Shop Lowe’s online for mistletoe.
- Find the nearest Lowe’s
- Types of mistletoe available: You’ll find many mistletoe decorations at Cracker Barrel, but not fresh mistletoe. This combination restaurant/country gift shop stocks unique Christmas decorations, beginning around September when they put out holiday items until January when the season officially ends. You won’t find any mistletoe until holiday stocking starts in stores, and it usually shows up a little later on the store’s website.
- When is it available? Seasonally (September through January)
- Shop Cracker Barrel online.
- Find the nearest Cracker Barrel
- Types of mistletoe available: For fresh mistletoe that comes straight from Oregon, opt for Triumph Plant. This gardening company ships mistletoe during the holiday season in regular packaging or in a gift box, if necessary. You’ll need to call the company to discuss sending mistletoe as a gift. The plant is available online from November until December 10, so there’s a small window to get your order in. The only catch is that Triumph supplies retailers with mistletoe, so if you own a store or flower shop and wish to stock the real thing this season, this is the place to contact.
- When is it available? Seasonally (November through December)
- Shop Triumph Plant online for mistletoe
- Call the company with questions at (845) 634-5060
- Types of mistletoe available: Target doesn’t offer fresh mistletoe, but they do offer artificial mistletoe springs, wreaths, and other home decorations for the holidays. Typically, Target stocks seasonal items after Halloween and they remain until after Christmas is over. You’ll also find mistletoe items online during this seasonal time.
- When is it available? Seasonally (October through January)
- Shop Target online for mistletoe items.
- Find the nearest Target
Mountain Rose Herbs
- Types of mistletoe available: For dried mistletoe, head to Mountain Rose Herbs online. They offer cut, dried mistletoe for medicinal purposes, such as creating handmade teas, salves, or tinctures.
- When is it available? Year-round
- Shop Mountain Rose Herbs online to purchase dried mistletoe
Mistletoe is a classic holiday decoration, alleged to have mystical powers akin to Cupid’s. There are several places where you can buy mistletoe and even more variations of mistletoe products to choose from. You can get mistletoe decorations, actual plants, artificial decorations, and more. And, if you’d rather not go out more than necessary during chilly winter months, you can buy your mistletoe from an online retailer. Happy holiday decorating!
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Mistletoe Care & Advice
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Berried holly branch arrived in time and was Exactly what i needed to finish off the table for Christmas. Thank you Guys.
I have had such a hard time where I live getting fresh Mistletoe toe. But I ordered it early and it is now in my fridge. I love the smell and it is a lovely arrangement thats Generous in size, fairly priced and delivered straight to my door. Usually, if I wait till Christmas, they run out.
The best bunch of mistletoe I have ever bought quite frankly. It is a great big bunch tied up with a lovely red ribbon and is nice and healthy; so much better than any I have bought in the past and well worth the money. Expertly packaged too. It now adorns my hallway ready to catch anybody as they come in and has added the finishing touch to my festive decorations. Thank you.
A generous bunch with an abundance of berries. Just what i hoped for, Superb! Highly recommend.
I have used www.inter.gifts twice in the past and they have yet to let me down. Flawless as always. With lots of quality berried Holly thats well packaged
Harvesting and Selling Mistletoe for Profit
The best tool I’ve found for collecting mistletoe is a long pole with a hook mounted on one end. Store-bought pruning poles work nicely, but you can make your own: Get several strips of 1 inch-wide lumber—wood that’s light enough to handle, yet sturdy enough not to flop over when hoisted high. Drill a hole an inch or two in from one end of each of the strips, and then join the sections with 1/4 inch bolts and nuts. Assembled, the pole should be about 12 to 20 feet long-anything longer will be awkward to maneuver. You can make the hook, which of course is used to dislodge the mistletoe, by simply driving a long nail into one end of the pole and then bending the spike over. (The curved blade from a linoleum knife will work, too.) To transport the pole, just loosen the nuts and fold it down, like a carpenter’s ruler.
For really tall trees, you’ll need a long ladder. And if you intend to do much harvesting, you may want to get yourself a partner. One person can climb the tree and the other can steady the ladder, hand the pole up, and catch the clumps of mistletoe as they fall. (Again, remember that the plants crush easily. Place them carefully in your bags or boxes, and don’t stack the containers on top of one another.)
As you work, try to be selective about the plants you harvest. Mistletoe grows in both male and female forms—the latter plants are the most desirable, because they bear attractive, white-pink berries. (These usually ripen sometime in December.) From the ground, it’s often hard to tell the difference between male and female plants, or even between leafy, attractive clumps and those that are mostly stems. Leafy mistletoe with berries is better, not only because it’s more appealing visually and therefore easier to sell, but also because it will fill more bags—netting more money for your efforts. If your mistletoe comes up short of berries, you can mix male and female plants together in one spray or package. Some people actually prefer to buy unberried clusters, because the tiny white fruit will eventually fall off and make a mess, and because the fruit is, after all, poisonous (something for parents and pet owners especially to consider). Still, I’ve found that most people want those berries, regardless of the drawbacks.
PACKAGING & PRICING MISTLETOE
Mistletoe, like any plant, will begin to dry once it’s picked. Commercial dealers spray their wares with a preservative to keep them fresh-looking, but I think a far better way is to harvest only as much as you can sell within a few days, and then gather more when you need it. If you keep the foliage moist (but not wet) and package it properly, it’ll retain its festive appearance nicely.
I’ve found that plastic sandwich bags-the kind with built—in zippers—make effective packages for mistletoe (people want to see what they’re buying!). Since the containers create an airtight seal, though, it’s important to punch air holes in them, or water vapor will be trapped inside and the sprigs will become moldy. To prepare many bags quickly, just drive a few nails into a board and then impale the sacks on the spikes. Instant ventilation!
As you package your product, keep your customers in mind-try to make each parcel as attractive as possible. Break the clumps you’ve gathered into small branches, setting aside any particularly nice-looking sprays. Then fill the bags, making sure to include one good spray and several thinner sprigs in each one. Occasionally, I’m able to buy colorful stick—on bows for just a few pennies apiece—the decorations, either attached to the outside of the bags or stuffed inside, really boost sales. Don’t crowd the mistletoe, though—and don’t even bother with such embellishments unless you can buy them at a bargain rate that won’t cut into your profits.
Naturally, it’s hard to say how much mistletoe you should package for your first day of selling, but I’d recommend at least a couple of hundred bags. Your sales will depend largely on your location and your price. Here in economically depressed Eugene, I ask only 50 cents a bag, and can easily move 100 bags on a good day. Yet the same bag in New York City would probably move well at $2.00 or more. If your sales are slow, cut your price.
Since mistletoe is an impulse item (people don’t think of buying it until they see someone selling it), the best locations are wherever there’s plenty of foot traffic. My downtown mall “store” cost only $10 for a partial month’s rent. The booth itself doesn’t have to be elaborate (I just set up a card table and threw a tablecloth over it), but you do need to make sure you and your product are visible. My posterboard banners proclaim Mistletoe 50 cents . . . Fresh, Organic, Oregon-Grown! . . . and Do Your Lips a Favor! (Since the booth was outdoors, I bundled up in appropriate cold—weather gear—and discovered that looking somewhat chilled helped generate sales and tips!)
THE SKY’S THE LIMIT!
Actually, there are any number of other ways to market mistletoe. If there’s a college campus near you, try peddling it door-to-door to fraternities and sororities. Or if selling outdoors doesn’t appeal to you, take your packaged mistletoe to retail stores and offer it to them on consignment. Also, florists and grocers will sometimes buy bulk mistletoe at wholesale—but I’ve found that the profit’s better when I sell direct. (Besides, I get to meet more people that way.)
Whichever methods you choose, and however big or small your business may be, I think you’ll find—as I have—that marketing mistletoe offers a multitude of rewards. Not only do you make extra money for the holidays, but you also get to make the season a bit merrier for other folks. And you get to hang plenty of mistletoe around your own house, so that you, too, can observe one of humankind’s more enjoyable traditions!
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more tips on gathering and selling this holiday plant, see “The Mistletoe Game” in MOTHER EARTH NEWS N0. 30. You may also want to read about the fascinating legends and lore associated with mistletoe, in MOTHER’s Herb Garden, issue 66.
Mistletoe: More than Just the “Kissing Herb”
by Jess Thygen Blalock
It was the herb most prized by the Druids, the famous “golden bough”. It was the weapon given to Höðr by Laufey’s Son which was used to slay Balder. Known as the “thunder-broom” in Sweden, it is hung over doorways and on walls as a charm to prevent the occupants from being hurt by storms. Its’ most famous use in the modern era is as the herb we place above a doorway for couples to kiss under during the Yuletide – a custom popularized in the nineteenth century.
What is it about the plant which gives it it’s mysterious qualities? Much of that undoubtedly comes from the way the plant grows and thrives.
Mistletoe (viscum album) is an herb long revered for it’s curative and sacred properties. Both Pliny and Ovid associate it with the Druids and their holy rites; mistletoe found on oak was particularly holy, and warranted (according to Pliny) the sacrifice of two white bulls. However, mistletoe grows far and wide, not only in northern Europe, but in northwestern Africa, Japan, and many parts of Asia. It is a parasite (of the obligate kind – it needs living plant tissue to thrive on, and if the branch dies, it dies), which is generally spread via bird droppings, deriving it’s minerals and water from its’ host tree, but producing its’ own carbohydrates via photosynthesis. It can grown in a ball reaching three feet in diameter. The usual host trees, along with oak, include apple, lime, hawthorn, maple, rowan, poplar, spruce, pine, and elm. Berries appear on female mistletoe only. The fruit ripens during midwinter, although various stages of budding, flowering, and seed production can all be found on the same plant. It is not unusual to find mistletoe bearing fruit and flowers in different stages on the same plant, and even the same branch. In general, the flower buds form in May, but do not open until the following February. In some cases the berries will not then appear until the following winter – hence taking the plant, in some cases, two to five years to bear fruit!
In a slap in the face to helio- and geotropism, it can grow in a variety of directions with no harm to itself (including sideways), and is only capable of germination in the light.
Today, it can easily be seen on trees in the fall and winter, when they have lost their leaves (although for the trained eye it is also easy to spot on trees with full foliage – look for deep green to golden-green ball-like clusters). It is not unusual to see whole colonies congregating at the tops of older trees.
Given it’s unusual growth sequences, it’s defiance of most of the laws of the plant kingdom, and it’s ability to seemingly thrive without soil, it’s no wonder that it was a plant held in awe by many. What other plant could seemingly survive on air? And what do you do with something that, by all appearances, is not quite herb but not quite plant?
The answer is simple: experimentation. After all, a plant that weird has to be good for something, right?
Despite what we may thing of ancient and medieval medicine, they were accurate in many respects when it came to the use of mistletoe as a healing herb, which is something that modern scientists have been able to reinforce via experimentation. For example, medieval medicine prescribed mistletoe for epilepsy and tumors. Mistletoe is naturally rich in magnesium, phosphorous, sulfur, and potassium. Laboratory studies performed in the 1960s showed that mistletoe (along with other immunostimulants, including echinacea, chamomilla, and sabal) was capable of inhibiting tumors in mice. Likewise, mistletoe has been shown to be effective in battling leukemia in both fermented and unfermented states; in particular Korean mistletoe (viscum coloratum) when used fresh was active in inhibiting growth of leukemia L1210.
Mistletoe extracts have been shown to possess extraordinary skills in the anti-tumor ring, effective against murine tumors, Lewis’ lung carcinoma, and C3H adenocarcinomas of the breast. Much of it’s tumor inhibiting strength comes from the proteins, fat substances, polysaccharides, and even tumor-inhibiting bacteria present in the plant.
Used medicinally, mistletoe increases a type of immune cell known as “killer cells”, as well as to augment granular lymphocytes and increase cytotoxic activities. In addition to battling leukemia and tumors, mistletoe has been used to combat a variety of nervous disorders (including hysteria and delirium), heart conditions, urinary disorders, and yes – it assists in tempering epileptic spasms. It strengthens the heart, glandular system, and eases inflammation of the pancreas. If taken as part of a daily regimen it can promote a hormonal balance. It has been given to those who suffer from strokes and hardening of the arteries; it stops intestinal bleeding. It can raise or lower your blood pressure, ease hot flashes and anxiety, and staunch heavy menstrual flow. It can be used in various types of cancer therapy.
Those ancient and medieval doctors weren’t so far off base after all. Truly an herb for all ills.
However, before you head out to the countryside armed with your knives, sickles, and shotguns (for those higher up and harder to reach balls of mistletoe), I should mention that unless your idea of healing involves bending over the toilet, convulsing, and a trip to the doctor, you should never self-medicate with mistletoe. Although it would take a large number of ingested leaves to make a healthy adult really ill, eating the berries can make you extremely ill, and in the case of small children it can induce convulsions (in addition to making them deathly ill).
So – convulsions and nausea aren’t exactly your way of spending the holy tides. Fortunately for you, mistletoe has some supernatural properties as well. Mistletoe is renowned as a protective herb, bringing security to the home and preventing the wights from running off with your children. Additionally, it has associations with fertility (if berries are included), luck, youthfulness, and love.
To gather your own mistletoe, you can go out to the woods (or in some cases you might find some growing on trees around parking lots) and harvest your own. The best time to harvest mistletoe is during Midsummer (a good time to do herb harvesting in general, as following Midsummer the percentage of natural insecticide is too high). Be sure to bring a bag and a sharp knife. Depending on what you desire, you can harvest some with berries (for fertility) or without (for protection and luck). If you have pets or small children, sans berries may be the safest route. You can trim your mistletoe to the dimensions you desire.
To dry mistletoe, I recommend tying twine or hemp around the base of your cutting and hanging it upside down in a cool, dry location. Again if you have pets or small children and will be drying your herbs in a part of the house where they are wont to wonder, you will need to take a paper (not plastic) bag and secure it around the base of the plant. It will continue to dry and the bag will catch any leaves or shoots which might fall. If you have selected a cutting with berries, the bag will catch the seeds. Dried mistletoe will take on a slightly golden-green hue. For those who wish to maintain the look of a fresh-cut branch, floral preservative sprays may be employed. Your dried mistletoe can be kept to hang as decoration, or ground up to be used in charms for protection and fertility.
If you intend to cut yours fresh for Yule, depending on whether you have children or pets you may wish to avoid cutting those branches which contain berries, as when the mistletoe dries from being hung the berries will drop off.
For the truly adventurous and those with green thumbs, you can try your hand at growing your own crop of mistletoe – provided that you have a healthy set of trees to grow it on. Don’t bother using the berries from mistletoe harvested during Yuletide – they are immature. You will get far better results from berries harvested in the spring. Take one of the berries and squash it in a crevice of bark on a host tree branch that is preferably of the same species that you harvested the berries from. The tree should be at least 10-15 years old and healthy. Do not use as a host tree older trees which have a great deal of deadwood, or trees which have been the victims of various diseases (such as Dutch Elm Disease). Remember, mistletoe is an obligate parasite, which means that it will stay alive and healthy as long as the tree is alive and healthy – if the tree is diseased or dying the mistletoe will be less likely to grow. For those of you concerned about damage to the host tree, it takes multiple mistletoe colonies and several years to begin to effect the health of the tree. Apple trees, and trees similar in height, tend to be excellent for growing mistletoe, as little harm is done to the trees, and the height makes harvesting easier. Mistletoe from oak trees is believed to be more potent.
To be certain that germination has begun, inspect the branch where you squashed the fruit for signs of swelling. If swelling appears, the germination was successful.
Patience is required when growing mistletoe. In the first year, your baby mistletoe may only sprout two to three leaves, and since female plants are the only ones to produce berries and berries can take up to five years to appear, you may have to spread your mistletoe garden over several trees in one area to get a good variety. Naturally, local birds can help you to spread the seeds in their own way as plants mature. No watering, fertilizer, or food spikes are needed.
Bown, Deni. HERBAL: The Essential Guide to Herbs for Living.Pavilion Books, London, 2001.
Hopman, Ellen Evert. A Druid’s Herbal for the Sacred Earth Year. Destiny Books, Vermont, 1995.
Parvati, Jeannine. HYGIEIA: A Woman’s Herbal. A Freestone Collective Book, 1998.
The mistletoe mystery: It sprouts magically from the branches of random trees – but why only certain species, and how does it spread? Monty Don has the answers…
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- Emma Roberts embodies the ‘new spirit of femininity’ as she poses in a sheer black shirt for a chic Boss fragrance campaign – after being named as the new face of the brand
- Meghan Trainor channels an eighties office vibe in her new music video for Nice to Meet Ya featuring Nicki Minaj
- Nadine Coyle DENIES she’s Queen Bee on The Masked Singer and reveals her daughter Anaíya almost stopped the singer from going on I’m A Celebrity
- ‘It made me really anxious’: Linda Robson reveals she feared getting addicted to social media when reunited with her phone after giving it up for a year amid OCD battle
- Love Island SPOILER: ‘That’s SAVAGE!’ Islanders are left TERRIFIED as its revealed they must vote for the least compatible couple
- Kelly Brook’s ex David McIntosh brands the star ‘a SNAKE’ in shock swipe… following their bitter split and his ‘bullying’ accusations Hitting out
- Stunning period costumes worn by A-list stars including Cate Blanchett in the film Elizabeth: The Golden Age and Claire Foy in The Crown go on display at Ely Cathedral
- ‘I knew straight away I had feelings for her’: Dancing On Ice star Kevin Kilbane discusses new romance with pro partner Brianne Delcourt
- Kimberley Garner showcases her stunning physique in a yellow and orange swimsuit as she soaks up the sun in Miami Good times
- Sofia Richie opts for gothic glamour as she sports sweeping leather coat with trendy jeans for Beverly Hills dinner Made a solo appearance on Thursday evening
- Princess Diana’s scarlet Jasper Conran suit bought at auction for £50,000 goes on public display for the first time to showcase her unique style of ‘tradition with a twist’
- Jason Momoa goes shirtless and lathers himself in bubbles for Rocket Mortgage’s VERY strange Super Bowl commercial
- Prince Philip, 98, goes to Sandringham estate shooting party just weeks after hospital stay as son Prince Charles drives to join him
- Meghan Markle and Prince Harry are ‘hoping’ to spend their summer in Los Angeles and are already looking for a house where they can ‘entertain’
All photos courtesy of Steve Houser.
Published November 23, 2010 By STEVE HOUSER
Mistletoe is the common name for a parasitic flowering plant that grows attached to, and within, the vascular system of a tree or shrub. There are many different species of mistletoe, including some that are dwarf in size. All of them have root systems that are imbedded in the trunk, branches or twigs of a host tree, and because they extract nutrients (or plant food) as well as water for survival, they are not good for the health of your trees. (Would you want a parasite sitting at your table and eating your food as fast as you can bring it home? If you have teenagers, maybe you understand how a tree with mistletoe feels!) Note that some species of mistletoe do produce a portion of their own food through photosynthesis because they have leaves.
Mistletoe can affect a wide range of host plants and can spread to lower portions of a tree once it becomes established. It is also spread from tree to tree by birds, which feed on the seeds and deposit them in nearby trees. Mistletoe is an important component of the ecology in our area because a broad range of animals depend on it for food and habitat (such as roosting and nesting for birds).
Mistletoe does not normally kill a tree, but it can be a contributing factor in a tree’s loss if the tree has other problems. Mistletoe stays green in the winter when its host tree goes dormant, so if your elm looks like an evergreen tree this winter, you know you have a problem — utopia for a bird, but a plague for the elm. Unfortunately, limbs or trunks containing mistletoe can become weaker in strength, which increases the potential for structural failure (or breakage).
Assuming mistletoe has become a problem, smaller branches and twigs that are affected can be removed entirely to prevent its spread to other parts of the tree. Mistletoe in larger limbs or trunks can be removed at the bark, but it typically re-grows within a few months. Do not cut into the tree to remove mistletoe.
Example of poor cuts made to remove mistletoe.
The “chili bowl” cut is a proper cut to remove mistletoe.
Re-growth of mistletoe can produce seeds within a few seasons and should be removed every two to three years to reduce its spread. Many species of mistletoe rely on only one host (Oak, Elm, or others); therefore, planting a diversity of species can help to suppress the spread.
Some mistletoe species are known to be poisonous, while a few are reported by herbalists to have medicinal qualities.
Mistletoe is commonly hung over a doorway as a Christmas decoration. According to custom, two people who meet under it are obliged to kiss. After each kiss, a berry is picked until, alas, all the berries are gone, and no more kissing is allowed!
If you need a big smooch or you’re a naturalist, mistletoe is a treasure. If a tree’s health or structural integrity is a concern, it’s a parasite. A bird (or sprig or kiss) in the hand is better than two mistletoe in the bush!
Posted by Mr. Steve Houser
About the author
Mr. Steve Houser
Mr. Houser is a Dallas native with almost 40 years of experience as a consulting arborist and expert tree climber. He is the president and owner of Arborilogical Services, “The Experts Your Trees Deserve.”®
Pucker Up: Five Fast Facts About Mistletoe
It’s the holiday symbol for romance that has sparked countless smooches.
But did you know that mistletoe is actually a parasite? Or that some species of this plant so often associated with winter actually thrive in the desert Southwest? Where did the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe originate, anyway?
In the spirit of the holiday season, Rick Gibson, director of Cooperative Extension in Pinal County for the University of Arizona, shares some interesting facts about this iconic plant.
1. Mistletoe steals water and nutrients from other plants.
Although it’s known for its romantic associations, mistletoe is anything but loving. In fact, it’s actually a parasite.
Mistletoe attaches itself to other plants and shrubs, stealing away its host’s food and water. This can lead to the host plant’s weakening, disfigurement and eventual death.
“When you get a heavy infestation, it keeps sucking strength away from the plant,” Gibson said. “It’s almost like a cancerous type of growth.”
Unlike many other parasitic plants, mistletoe has chlorophyll, so it can also produce food from the sun’s energy through photosynthesis.
2. There are about a dozen species of mistletoe in the Southwest.
Mistletoe is found all over the world. While it’s often associated with winter, mistletoe has several species that thrive in the desert Southwest’s warm and dry climate.
“There are different types of mistletoe worldwide,” Gibson said. “The ones here in the desert are specific to our desert trees. We aren’t immune to them.”
Palo verde, mesquite, ironwood, pine, juniper and other types of desert trees often are infested with mistletoe.
3. Not all mistletoe is pretty.
Do you picture a sprig of bright-green leaves when you think of mistletoe? That’s not always the case.
“There’s so many different types,” Gibson said. “The type we use at Christmas time has the nice, broad leaves. It looks attractive, and it has a nice place in our culture, but it’s still a parasite.”
The kind of mistletoe that’s picked and sold during the holidays typically is plucked from trees such as cottonwood, sycamore, willow and ash. While some species of mistletoe have large leaves, others are leafless.
Here in the desert, you’ve probably seen mistletoe without even realizing it. If you’ve ever seen a palo verde tree with a dense bundle of woody twigs attached, that bundle is probably mistletoe.
4. Mistletoe spreads its love thanks to birds.
Most species of mistletoe produce small berries that are white, pinkish or green-tinged. Gibson says that these berries are delicious to birds.
When the berries are eaten, they stick to the birds’ beaks and feet. The birds then carry the berries to other plants and trees, where the mistletoe can attach and sprout.
After birds eat mistletoe berries, the parasite also can spread through the birds’ droppings.
5. Mistletoe is very, very hard to get rid of.
Gibson likens mistletoe to a weed that’s extremely difficult and time consuming to get rid of.
First, it tends to grow up high in the canopy where the sunlight hits, making it hard to access. Secondly, even if you prune it, buds embedded in the host plant’s branches mean it’s likely to grow back.
“What we have to do with mistletoe, if you’re going to do it right, is cut down into the branch just a little bit — not too deep, because then we’ll weaken the branch — and try to get out those buds that are right at the surface,” Gibson says.
Gibson says another technique is to trim the mistletoe back, then wrap the area in dark, light-excluding plastic sheeting to deprive the buds of sunlight, eventually killing the parasite. It can take up to two years for the mistletoe buds to completely die.
Another option? Remove the infected branch entirely. However, this method can leave the plant vulnerable to other diseases and wood-destroying insects.
So how exactly did a parasitic plant become associated with locking lips during the holidays?
While reports vary, some say the tradition originated from the Roman pagans’ festival of Saturnalia, a weeklong celebration to honor the deity Saturn that occurred around our present-day observance of Christmas and New Year’s.
Others say it started in the late 18th century with the English concept of the “kissing ball,” a bundle of mistletoe and evergreens. It was said that a kiss under the kissing ball signified lasting romance, friendship and goodwill.
Whatever the tradition’s origins, and despite its parasitic properties, mistletoe has been associated with love, fertility, peace and life-giving power in various cultures around the world for centuries.
Most of us celebrate Christmas with plenty of traditions: ornaments hanging from a Christmas tree, stockings full of presents, and even kissing under the mistletoe!
We’ll spare you the details about what Mistletoe actually means in German, but it has long been a holiday tradition that if two people stand beneath the hanging plant, they have to kiss. It’s unclear when or why people began smooching under the mistletoe, but the custom has been around long enough to be referenced in one of Washington Irving’s stories from 1820. Before that, the plant has symbolized romance and fertility in the times of Ancient Greece.
So, if you’re looking for a vintage holiday touch, a hanging ball of mistletoe is an easy way to brighten your place up with some picture-perfect Christmas cheer. Plus, it will definitely make your Christmas party more interesting. Here’s where to buy mistletoe online and in the stores.
Where to Buy Real Mistletoe
Since inventory varies from store to store, you should always call ahead or check your local store’s website before heading there. Some places you can try are:
- Home Depot
- The garden section of your local Walmart
- Your local florist
- Your closest Christmas tree farm
Believe it or not, it may be easier to order mistletoe online from retailers like the Oregon-based Triumph Plant. Etsy also has large selection of fresh and dried mistletoe decorations like the ones below.
Buy Real Mistletoe Online
Fresh Hanging Mistletoe Boxwood Manor Farm etsy.com $29.99 Fresh Picked Mistletoe Joshua Tree Finds etsy.com $18.50 Mistletoe Tied With LAce Haberdashery Co etsy.com $30.00 Ball of Mistletoe Boxwood Manor Farm etsy.com $54.99
Where to Buy Artificial Mistletoe
Artificial hanging mistletoe is a little easier to find. Plus, you can use it year after year. If you’re looking for artificial mistletoe, the best places to check are:
- The Christmas Tree Shop (of course!)
- Home Goods
- Bed, Bath and Beyond
Like anything else you could possibly need, artificial mistletoe is also available on Amazon. Here are some of our some of mistletoe decorations that you can get delivered to your doorstep in two days.
Buy Artificial Mistletoe Online
Red and Gold Mistletoe Ganz amazon.com $12.64 Mistletoe Bouquet RAZ Imports amazon.com $17.95 Mistletoe with Red Ribbon tag amazon.com $16.99 Felt Mistletoe Sullivan amazon.com $14.95
ABOUT THE PLANT
Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that lives in trees and directly derives a proportion of its required nutrients from its host during its life cycle. Although the plant contains chlorophyll, it depends on the hosts for most of its carbon requirements and for nearly all of its other nutrient and water needs. By this parasite action on a host plant, the mistletoe has a competitive advantage over many other forms of life as it does not have to compete in soil for its water and nutrient needs.
About 18,000 years ago, mistletoe actively migrated north and south and started to evolve to produce the mistletoes we know today. There are four families, of mistletoes but only two of these, the Viscaceae and Loranthaceae, are of widespread importance.
The family Loranthaceae is large and contains at least nine types, most of which are prolific in the tropics. Most have large, showy flowers and attack a variety of tree hosts.
The family Viscaceae contains several types, but only Phoradendron and Viscum are important to the legends and myths of the plant. In Europe Viscum album is the major species with which our ancestors knew and formed the basis of many myths, legends, and religious beliefs, as well as being used for medicinal purposes.
Most of the seasonal crop is taken from apple orchards (apple is the English mistletoe’s favourite host).
With the decline in management of traditional orchards mistletoe is increasingly either absent in the modern bush orchards, or too numerous in neglected traditional orchards. The English Mistletoe Company promotes the sustainable harvesting of mistletoe in all orchards where practical, including remedial management where trees have become overgrown and so threatened by the excessive growth.
Mistletoe has no commercial value ‘on the tree’ – which may account for why so much has become neglected. The cost of harvesting, sorting, packing and then transporting can be prohibitive without a defined market. The English Mistletoe Company’s website helps to provide that market, and so the trees we harvest are subject of better management.