Mistletoe is a semi parasitic plant which thrives on several species of trees but particularly on apple trees. A parasitic plant obtains some or all of its nutrition from another living plant, often known as a ‘host’.
Mistletoe on a tree, photograph by Angela Muthana
The common name Mistletoe comes from the Anglo-Saxon word, misteltan. perhaps from mistel or mist = birdlime and tan = twig. This is a reference to the way the plant is spread by birds eating the berries and depositing their droppings on tree branches.
Mistletoe is a slightly woody, evergreen sub shrub, which has opposite yellow green narrow strap like leaves at the end of regularly branched stems. The fruit is a poisonous one seeded, sticky white berry.
Mistletoe berry and plant. Photographs by Angela Muthana
Mistletoe has been popular in culture, folklore and mythology since pre- Christian times. The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe started in ancient Greece and ancient Rome during the festival of Saturnalia (held in December) and later in marriage ceremonies as it also associated with fertility, long life and good luck. Kissing under the mistletoe was apparently popular in 16th century England. Dickens mentioned it in The Pickwick Papers and so it was popularised in Victorian times .
It is used as a Christmas decoration, and can be left hanging in the house to preserve it from fire or lightening, according to custom. It is still popular to hang up over doorways so that people can be kissed as they enter a house.