I read a few articles about this hemiparasitic plant. That means the mistletoe lives on the plant and gets its nourishment from it as a parasite, yet, it is green and also makes its food by photosynthesizing. So, how does this plant end up living in the trees? Bird poop. Quite a few plants have birds helping them spread. That’s how poison ivy ends up in places you never had it before. The old English version of mistletoe is “mistletan” and “mistel” is the word for “dung” and “tan” means “twig”, thus poop branch. Long ago they thought the mistletoe grew from birds, but later realized it was from their droppings instead.
The white fruit of the mistletoe contains sticky seeds. They are very poisonous, but not to birds. If you handle real mistletoe, make sure to wash your hands well to make sure there is no reaction to it. The birds eat them, they come out the other end, and are quite often deposited on the branches and twigs of trees. Because the seeds are sticky, they may also wipe them off their beaks onto the tree branches. These seeds send out a structure called a haustoria which penetrates the tree bark, finds the vascular system of the tree and starts sucking up the water and nutrients. This will be detrimental to the tree, and if it’s left to overtake the tree, it may kill the plant.
The Celtic Druids thought it had mystical power, others thought it was holy because it’s rooted close to heaven in the trees. Scandinavian mythology portrayed it as a symbol of peace and from there it somehow became a Christmas and New Year’s tradition to hang and kiss under it. A berry is removed for each kiss and when the berries are gone, the kisses end.
I think it is amazing how these myths and traditions get started and live on through the centuries. I’m going to dig through the closets and basement at my Mom’s house and look for the mistletoe elf ball. Meanwhile my Trader Joe’s mistletoe is hung and we’ll see how that goes. Do you hang mistletoe?