For most of the year, we don’t hear much talk about lovely mistletoe but come the winter months and Christmas time, mistletoe is big news. You’ll find this plant hanging indoors, on wreaths, on Christmas cards and decorations and the tradition says that whoever you meet underneath the mistletoe you have to kiss! There are up to 1500 species of mistletoe in the world and you’ll most commonly find mistletoe in the UK growing on apple trees but it can grow on others.
The mistletoe kissing tradition has been about since the 18th century and according to the tradition it is bad luck to refuse a kiss beneath the mistletoe. After the kiss, the couple is to pluck one of the berries from the plant and once all of the berries are gone, the bough no longer has the power to command kisses.
So where does mistletoe come from?
Our own mistletoe is called Viscum album and grows throughout much of Europe but is very fickle as to its requirements. The majority of British mistletoe comes from right here in the Cotswolds amongst the cider orchards of Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, and Worcestershire. However, in other areas in the south of the country, there are isolated populations where it can grow locally in abundance. The further north you go the rarer mistletoe is. In the winter months when all of the trees are bare and many plants have died away, mistletoe stays green and you can still see it growing around tree branches quite happily, which has previously linked the plant to well-being and good fertility, which could explain the kissing tradition.
Quite a lot of birds enjoy eating mistletoe during the winter months, they aren’t put off by it because it has nice, lightly coloured berries unlike many of the plants with brightly coloured berries that can be poisonous to many birds. Ancient Norweigan and Scandinavian stories tell of mistletoe meaning love and friendship. It is said that the white berries are tears of the goddess of love called Frigg who cried for her son Baldr.
Greek and Roman tales portray mistletoe as a plant of peace and friendship while France sees mistletoe as a good luck charm that people often give to friends as a New Year’s gift to wish them luck for the coming year ahead. If you’d like to grow your own mistletoe then you’ll actually find it relatively easy.
Ideally, fresh berries should be sown in February and these can be gathered or purchased. Squeeze the seeds out of the berries and remove as much of the stickiness as possible and make sure to choose young branches away from the trunk and fix to their underside. There is no need to nick the bark or cover the seeds although it is probably advisable to mark the branch in some way to identify it in the future and help you to remember where you put the seed. The seeds germinate quite quickly but it will be four years or more before any real growth is apparent. Mistletoe has separate male and female plants so it will be necessary to have several plants to ensure cross-fertilization and berry production. Keep your eyes peeled for mistletoe over the festive period and have a wonderful christmas one and all!