Monday, 22 December 2008

Mistletoe

Mistletoe growing in Oxford Botanic Gardens

Travelling south on the train near Bristol I was surprised to see trees festooned with quite large quantities of mistletoe (Viscum album). I don't know why I was surprised, since it's not uncommon in the south of England, but I've spent so much time in the north that I just don't expect to see it, I suppose. With my interest in folklore it's not surprising that I've always rather wanted to grow it, and always lived in the wrong places.

I think most people know about its pagan associations and have a mental picture of it being sought by druids in oak groves for use in their rituals, where it had to be cut with a golden sickle to preserve its qualities. Such images probably arise from Europe, since in England it's rare for it to grow on oak, being much more common in old apple orchards, and therefore somewhat under threat, as our old orchards are a dying breed. Mistletoe is difficult to get established, which is why I'm not wasting my time trying to persuade it to adopt one of its alternative host plants, although I would be happy to see some of our hawthorns supporting this particular parasite. Not, I might add, that any plant in our garden is allowed to bear its berries for more than a day or two, before hoards of marauding blackbirds descend to strip them.

Here for your delectation is a link to a mistletoe blog – who would have thought there was such a thing? It, and the accompanying Mistletoe Pages will tell you far more than I ever could about this fascinating plant. As usual, though, Christmas in our house will be mistletoe-free.

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