The following article comes from our own Bonnie Pega’s blog from the Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond, originally published on December 4th, 2018.
Are you hanging a sprig of mistletoe over your door this holiday season? Here are some interesting facts about this holiday staple.
- The botanical name for mistletoe is “Phoradendron,” which means tree thief. While mistletoe is capable of performing photosynthesis, it more commonly grows as a parasite, sending roots down into a tree to leech nutrients away. A heavy infestation can kill or severely damage a tree.
- Most varieties produce a very sticky substance called viscin, which can enable the seeds to stick to the feathers or fur of an animal. This sticky substance can also allow the seed to glue itself to the bark or a branch of a suitable host tree.
- Because the seeds in birds’ droppings can often spread it, the word “mistletoe” comes from the Anglo-Saxon word for dung—Mistal—and the Anglo-Saxon word “tan” meaning “twig.” So mistletoe means “dung-on-a-twig.”
- Mistletoe flowers are a vibrant source of both pollen and nectar for bees and other pollinators. They are dioecious—meaning they have separate male and female plants. Only the female plants have berries.
- While mistletoe berries are highly toxic to humans and pets, they are an essential food source for birds and other wildlife. Several species of birds even prefer to make their nests in clumps of mistletoe. And it’s a host plant for several species of butterflies.
- There are over 1300 species of mistletoe worldwide, with over thirty native to the U.S. alone. Around 20 species are on the endangered species list, so when harvesting from the wild, be sure which species you are collecting.
- In ancient times, it was featured strongly in European folklore. Norse mythology had the goddess Frigg’s son, Balder, killed by an arrow made from mistletoe. When Frigg resurrected him, she proclaimed that mistletoe would never again be used to hurt anyone. It would be a symbol of love and friendship. The Celtic druids considered it to be a symbol of prosperity and fertility, and Scandanavians considered it a symbol of peace.
While no one is sure how an ancient symbol became connected with the holidays, for hundreds of years, mistletoe’s association with Christmas endures.
It’s the time of year to purchase your Christmas trees, wreaths, poinsettias, and mistletoe. Stop by between late November and the end of December for the best selection of holiday decorations. We’re here to help.