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Rising Mistletoe for Christmas and for Wildlife

Why a weblog about rising mistletoe for Christmas and for wildlife? As a result of this fascinating plant is about greater than our winter festivities.

As soon as condemned as a parasite, then feted by some as a magical plant, it turned an excuse to kiss a potential lover at Christmas. This latter is perhaps the frequent customized within the States and Britain (though much less so for the reason that pandemic), however there’s much more to mistletoe legend and truth than an adjunct to Christmas.

Certainly, there’s greater than a blogs value of info and fiction! However lets take a look at a number of the legends, whether or not it’s a parasite and the way simple it’s to develop mistletoe your self.


Rising Mistletoe – A Little bit of Botany

There are over 1500 mistletoe species globally primarily divided into 2 Households, Viscaceae and Loranthaceae. European white berried Mistletoe, Viscum album, is the species native to the British Isles and far of northern Europe. It’s the solely mistletoe species that has the distinctive forked branches, paired symmetrical evergreen leaves and white berries.

I moderately just like the etymology, or origin, of the identify, because it hyperlinks the strategy of propagation to the plant itself. ‘Mistel’ is Anglo Saxon for ‘dung’ (really!). And it is through the seeds being excreted onto a twig by the birds that have eaten the berries that the mistletoe propagates itself (more of this later).

Mistletoe is a fascinating plant, and although frequently referred to as a parasite, that’s not the whole story. Although the roots go into the branch of the tree it has attached to, mistletoe also photosynthesises through its green leaves. This means it is known as a hemiparasite or semi parasite rather than a (full) parasite. As a result, although it takes water and some nutrients from its host, mistletoe shouldn’t harm a healthy tree. They should be able to co-exist for many years, even decades.

The flowers of the mistletoe can be seen from February to April. They are small, and made up of four tiny petals in clusters of three to five. Mistletoe is dioecious, which means male and female flowers are produced on separate plants. The female flowers are stubbier than the male.

Mistletoe flower, Viscum album; ,,_Geuldal,_the_Netherlands_-_2.jpg

Mistletoe Legends

Mistletoe has long been considered as a symbol of peace in Scandinavia. For example, enemies would kiss under it as a sign of truce. So kissing under the Mistletoe doesn’t always mean you have embraced your true love. It can also be a token of lasting friendship or goodwill.

However, the kissing that has gone on under the Mistletoe during the festive season, whether this is celebrating the winter solstice or the Christ’s birth, cannot continue indefinitely. Whether it is the berries that run out – as one should be removed for each kiss – or whether Twelfth Night (January 6th) has been reached, the remaining branches of the Christmas Mistletoe should be burnt. This way all promises that were exchanged with the kisses will hold true. Or so it is believed.

For another mistletoe legend see superstitious plants blog link below

mistletoe in apple tree

Growing Mistletoe for Wildlife

Mistletoe  berries are a good source of protein for many birds and animals. Which is incredibly useful at a time when there is little else for them to eat. Blackcaps, Redwings and Fieldfares are avid eaters of the berry’s fat-rich flesh. As, of course are the Mistle thrush (clue being in the name) to the extent of guarding ‘their’ berry-laden tree from others.

And six species of insect are specialist mistletoe feeders, including the rare mistletoe marble moth Celypha woodiana.

But did you know that mistletoe is also an important pollen and nectar plant for bees and other pollinating insects? We’re so focussed on the berries, its easy to forget that flowers have to come first!

mistle thrush, winter berries



Growing Mistletoe for Christmas and for Wildlife

Sowing and Growing  Mistletoe

The best time for propagating European white berried Mistletoe is February. You need ripe berries and preferably to know from which tree they came, as they would seem to grow best on the same species. However, taking some berries from your Mistletoe spray before you hang it up and storing the berries in a vase of fresh water or a cool shed should work.

Alternatively, it is possible to buy mistletoe growing kits if you don’t have a ready supply of fresh berries (they’re not expensive)

When it comes to the mistletoe seed sowing, you’ll need a mature tree so it can cope with the extra work required in feeding Mistletoe. There are various propagation techniques which could be used. For example –

  • merely smear the branch with the seeds
  • make a small incision on the underside of the branch, slipping the berries in and covering with a bit of cotton cloth to prevent birds from eating them

And then wait. The seeds could take two years to germinate. If you’re going to harvest some of the plant each winter, then both tree and Mistletoe should live in harmony for decades.

apples- mistletoe

Which trees are best for growing mistletoe?

Mistletoe on apple, Malus, and crab-apple trees is quite common. One of the reasons why mistletoe seems to have been venerated by the druids is that it does not frequently grow on oak trees, Quercus robur. However, Viscum album will grow won a wide range of tree species, but why not take the easy life and grow it on a preferred tree. Members of the Rosacea family, which includes apples do seem to be favourites, but there are others which many of us will have in our gardens and orchards.

Rosacea family list – most popular

  • Apple, crab apple, Malus
  • Cotoneasters (various)
  • Hawthorn, Crateagus (another druid favourite) including ornamental
  • Japanese Quince, Chaenomeles
  • Medlar, Mespilus
  • Quince, Cydonia
  • Rowan, Sorbus

Rosacea family list – less popular

  • Cherries and Plums, Prunus
  • Pear, Pyrus

bunches of mistletoe in lime trees

Trees from other plant families –

  • Ash, Fraxinus excelsior
  • Birch, Betula
  • False Acacia, Robinia
  • Lime, Tilia
  • Polar, Populus
  • Sycamore, Maples, Acer (some species)
  • Willows, Salix (some species)

mistletoe - lichen- tree trunk

Growing Mistletoe in Orchards

Traditionally, the practice in many orchards had been that once a mistletoe plant was established on a branch, the branch was removed. This is now under review. So although mistletoe may not be actively encouraged in many gardens and estates, neither is it treated as a pest to be got rid of.

In fact there is research being carried out to discover whether particular varieties of apple are more favoured as a host. If you’d like to join in the survey, there’s a link below.

And finally…

Growing mistletoe may worry some of you because of the toxicity of the berries. They are toxic, but not necessarily fatal unless you ingest many.

Indeed mistletoe – variously berries, leaves and flowers – is used for both medical and culinary purposes. Tisanes and alcoholic drinks are made with it. And it is used in certain treatments for cancer and epilepsy; arthritis and dementia.

There is more about  Mistletoe in our eBook “In Your Winter Garden with Plews Garden Design” And for those of you who like Christmas – why not download our eBook “Christmas and Yule in Your Garden“?

Or if you’re looking for a Christmas gift with a difference, why not ask about our bespoke Gardening Lessons, where your classroom is actually your own garden? We can help with both gardening basics and more ‘expert tasks’, carry out worm and other experiments and for example, also show you how to plan a wildlife friendly ornamental border.

For further gardening advice and inspiration, check out Plews Potting Shed blogs, including the selection below and our monthly Tipsheet  – You could come and find us on Instagram  Pinterest and Facebook too.

Related Gardening articles you may enjoy from our Award Winning Blog

Why is Friday 13th unlucky? Plant Lore and Garden Myths
Hawthorn, May Blossom, Crataegus monogyna
How to Choose Apple Varieties to Grow in Your Garden or Orchard
Quince Trees
6 Bird Friendly Shrubs for Your Winter Garden

Winter Solstice Plants
The Winter Solstice and Your Garden
Choosing Your Real Christmas Tree – which species?
Christmas Plants – some questions and answers

Mistletoe survey in orchards and in gardens


In Your Winter Garden with Plews Garden Design - cover illustration by Lucy Waterfield



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