Mistletoe , Sacred and Nasty.

mistletoe

We all know what it means when we stand under a branch of mistletoe , so if you have happy memories from it or sooner nightmares , most of us don’t blame this litlle lovely branch of white berries and soft green leafs. The green of the leafs reminds us about spring is on it’s way. During the colder months outdoors, its parasitic growing habit gives the impression of blithe green globes decorating dark, dormant trees. The Druids and Vikings considered mistletoe to be sacred.

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Mistletoe has a pagan mystique which has made it unwelcome in churches but popular at parties. Long considered an aphrodisiac (though the berries are toxic), the kissing bunch pre-dates by millennia the Victorians and their rituals.

These plants grow attached to and penetrating within the branches of a tree or shrub by a structure called the haustorium, through which they absorb nutrients from the host plant. The name “mistletoe” is a Celt translation meaning “dung twig.” Seeds are passed from birds and will germinate on the branches of a host tree come spring: They are very sticky.

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The name was originally applied to Viscum album (European Mistletoe, Santalaceae), the only species native in Great Britain and much of Europe . Four years pass between germination and the first berries, and each shoot puts out two new leaves a year. It is a slow business, making these Dr. Seuss-like specimens all the more impressive.

Viscum album can parasitise more than 200 tree and shrub species.

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