Advent Mistletoe

Mistletoe, Viscum album, with plenty of white berries (Santalaceae). © Karen Andrews

Kisses and hugs have been in short supply in 2020. Social distancing has curtailed demonstrations of affection. Mistletoe has acquired associations with kissing. It is also associated with tears. There have been more than enough tears in 2020. What are the origins of these customs and myths?

Victorian Christmas

Christmas and New Year decorations are not complete without a sprig of Mistletoe. The plant is steeped in mythology and symbolism. It has long been associated with fertility and peace. The kissing connection is a relatively recent tradition by comparison. The Victorians liked to hang Mistletoe above a door or in a walkway, then await the opportunity to steal a kiss. According to the custom, you are supposed to remove one of the white berries for each kiss. The kissing stops when the berries run out.

Norse Mythology

Mistletoe plays a role in Norse Mythology. The goddess Frigg’s son Baldr was the god of light, joy, purity and the summer sun. He kept dreaming of his own death. Frigg sought promises from every earthly object that it would not harm her son. She overlooked Mistletoe. Baldr seemed invincible and participated in a game in which various dangerous projectiles were launched at him. Malicious trickery resulted in a fatal dart from Mistletoe being thrown at him by his blind twin brother. Frigg was bereft. Mistletoe’s white, translucent berries represent her tears.

Parasitic Plant?

Mistletoe is classed as hemi-parasitic as opposed to a parasitic plant because its green leaves have chlorophyll to photosynthesise. It also uses a rootlike structure called a haustorium to draw water and nutrients from its host tree. The Mistletoe’s seed is surrounded by sticky pulp that birds find very difficult to get rid of. They end up rubbing it off on trees and facilitating the transfer of Mistletoe to a new host.

Local Mistletoe

My nearest Mistletoe appears at low level on a Crab Apple tree. Most other local finds are in Apple Orchards. Somerset is one of the British counties with a lot of Mistletoe. This winter my local botany group, the Somerset Rare Plants Group (SRPG), are taking a particular interest in Mistletoe and carrying out a survey (see link below). Winter is an ideal time to spot the tell-tale signs of Mistletoe high in tree branches.

References and Further Reading

Copyright Note

Karen does not seek or receive any commercial interest or advantage from this blog. She is not promoting any business venture. She simply loves to share fascinating facts about plants. These pages illustrate her love of plants, botany, biodiversity, gardens and creative expression. There is always so much to learn about plant diversity. This blog is designed as a showcase for photography, commentary on plants and wildlife, gardens and other places visited, horticulture and related topics. Viewpoints are her own, not those of her employer.

© Karen Andrews 2018 onwards. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Andrews and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

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