Tis the Season for Mistletoe

A month or so ago, I was hiking with my friend Beth on a trail near Norris Dam to gather bittersweet for use in making wreaths.  Beth is a great naturalist and pointed out something high up in the trees that I was not aware of — mistletoe!  It is evergreen and looks like a 1-2 foot round party ball in the tree.  The picture below is the American species of mistletoe (species American Phoradendron).

It’s Everywhere!

Yes!  Mistletoe is native to our area.  See map below.  Now that the leaves are off the trees, I can see it everywhere.  It  is a “stem parasite” that lives on branches of trees and shrubs — finding its way there through a bird’s poop deposited onto a branch.  You can also grow your own mistletoe.

Locals tell me that they shoot it out of the trees.  Which makes sense, because all the ones I see are 50-80 feet into the canopy.

Not all mistletoe are alike.  Worldwide, there are over 1500 species (see other mistletoe).  The European mistletoe species (European Viscum)  looks different than the species we have in the United States.  They both have evergreen leaves and white berries, but the branching is different.  The European mistletoe species is pictured below.

The Christmas Kissing Tradition

The European variety is at the core of all the traditions — including kissing at Christmas.   But in fact, it dates way back before Christianity.  The European variety’s berries,  and specifically the positioning of the berries relative to the leaves, was considered to be a symbol of fertility to the Druids.  According to Druid and Nordic mythology:

Frigga, the Norse goddess of love, fertility, and marriage, had a son named Balder who was slain by an arrow made of European Mistletoe. Somehow Balder came back to life, after which Frigga consecrated mistletoe and gave a kiss to anyone who passed beneath a cluster of it–hence the modern-day custom of smooching under mistletoe.

Another site says that the Christmas kissing tradition involved an important role for the berry, which was to be picked from the mistletoe sprig prior to kissing someone standing underneath it.  When all the berries were gone, no more kissing.

I am continually amazed at the diversity of our plant and animal life in our Sharps Chapel area.  It is there for the viewing, if you just know what to look for.

Life is and Adventure.