MISTLETOE is one of Britain’s best-known plants, but it’s becoming increasingly rare.
As well as being steeped in tradition, mistletoe provides an important winter food source for birds such as the mistle thrush.
Mistletoe grows on many trees including lime, hawthorn and poplar, but cider apple trees are by far its favourite host.
Most of the mistletoe we buy comes from traditional orchards in the cider producing counties of Somerset, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire.
But these orchards are rapidly disappearing, along with the knowledge of mistletoe management and harvesting techniques, warns Sussex Wildlife Trust.
If this loss continues we will lose species associated with orchards such as bees, butterflies, moths and dead wood invertebrates, but may have to rely on more pricey European imports of mistletoe.
Sussex Wildlife Trust explained Mistletoe was important for wildlife; the mistle thrush is one of only birds to recognise the ice white berries as valuable winter food.
In turn, these birds spread mistletoe seeds to other trees, either through their droppings or from wiping their beaks on the tree bark to clean off the sticky seeds.
Sussex Wildlife Trust’s wildcall information officer Jess Price said: “Although we don’t want to stop Christmas kisses, we want people to appreciate mistletoe and the threats it faces.
“If you buy mistletoe try to ensure you buy British from a sustainably managed source, or better still why not grow some in your garden.
“Records for mistletoe in Sussex are low so if you are out this winter and spot some why not make a note of where and when you saw it and let me know.’
One legend surrounding mistletoe is that kissing under it would lead to marriage.
In ancient times the Druids believed that mistletoe would bring good luck and health.
Although it has been used to treat some ailments, the berries are in fact poisonous.
Mistletoe has also been associated with fertility, a good crop being a sign that the following season’s harvest would be a good one.
The name Mistletoe comes from the Anglo-Saxon Mistle meaning dung. It was noted that mistletoe grew where the Mistle Thrush deposited its droppings on the branches of trees. The Anglo-Saxon word for twig was tan, so a literal translation of the word Mistletoe from the Anglo-Saxon would be ‘dung on a twig’.
The link between mistletoe and the traditional use for love and good comes from old Norse Mythology.
Photo by Derek Middleton.