When we think mistletoe, we probably think of kissing under the mistletoe which is a tradition that began in England. It was thought that kissing your sweetie under the mistletoe would surely lead to marriage!
Mistletoe enjoys a Christmas related reputation which has been perpetuated through songs, poems and stories. Whether it is Brenda Lee singing about mistletoe while Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree or, more recently, Justin Beiber singing about it in the song Mistletoe (and teaching me a new word “shawty”, which is apparently slang for “shorty” and means pretty girl), we are all probably listening to Christmas music involving mistletoe.
I have noticed that several of my trees are growing mistletoe which is a parasitic plant that adheres to a host tree. It then connects and draws water and nutrients off the host. There are approximately 1,300-1,500 different species of mistletoe, but in most Christmas drawings we are used to seeing the European mistletoe which features white berries and two oval leaves on a stem opposite of each other. The oak mistletoe, also known as American mistletoe, is what we typically see in the U.S. and features white berries with leaves that resemble a succulent. In addition to white berries, other species of mistletoe have red, pink or translucent berries.
The berries of both the European and oak mistletoes are poisonous to animals and humans, so if using mistletoe in decorations, avoid the dining table or kitchen. Although mistletoe has been used in medicine, it’s use has been external. Faux (silk or plastic) mistletoe is a safe bet if you have small children or animals. The faux mistletoe balls that are easy to hang in doorways are attractive and still make for a good excuse to kiss.
It is easy to spot mistletoe on trees this time of year since the host trees have lost their leaves and most mistletoe is evergreen. I remember my dad taking my sister and me to the pasture to collect mistletoe from a tree. He pulled his truck under the tree so that we could reach the mistletoe from the bed of the truck. I don’t recall how we used the mistletoe to decorate, but I do remember what fun it was on a brisk winter day to collect it. I was too short to reach any, so my dad had to lift me up so that I could snap a piece off. The tree from which we collected mistletoe still stands.
Mistletoe looks lovely as an adornment to gift packages or tied with ribbon in bunches and hanging from a light fixture or in the center of a doorway. Of course, the latter makes kissing under the mistletoe easy. Mistletoe also looks good in floral arrangements. If I still have roses in a couple of weeks, I will use them along with mistletoe, cedar branches and rosemary sprigs, all of which I have growing in my yard, to make a Christmas arrangement for the living room.
Although I have always thought that mistletoe was bad for the host tree, there is a new way to look at mistletoe’s contributions to nature. In addition to providing a food source for some animals, such as birds, it is also thought that when mistletoe exists on a tree, it promotes the spread of the host tree’s berries or seeds since birds may eat some of those at the same time that they eat the mistletoe berries. I am still concerned since a couple of my trees in particular are covered in mistletoe.
I usually use a plastic wreath on my front door which withstands the elements and continues to look good throughout the season. A bit of fresh mistletoe would look nice tucked in a few spots around the wreath. If it withers, it can easily be replaced.
Do you use mistletoe in your holiday decorating? If so, how do you use it? Do you prefer real or faux?
Did you know…? Mistletoe was the state flower of Oklahoma from 1893 to 2004! Now it is considered the state floral emblem, replaced by the Oklahoma rose as the state flower.