Holiday Plants: Part 1

Friday, December 17, 2010

Mistletoe has long been associated with mythic properties. It was thought to be powerful because it grows without roots, bears fruits in the darkest days of the year, and seems to appear as if by magic in the branches of trees. We now know that mistletoe is not magical: the plant is parasitic (relying on the host plant for water and minerals) and its seed are deposited in bird droppings on branches.

The mistletoe is
Phoradendron leacarpum which is native to the Virginia/Maryland area and is also the state flower of Oklahoma. It is usually found growing on oaks, elms or maple. For the ancient Druids, mistletoe was the most potent of the sacred evergreens, with sprigs hung over doorways and windows to keep the evil spirits of disease from entering a house. Mistletoe berries were thought to be medicinal, but when eaten they can be toxic. (They are under current investigation for potential as a chemotherapeutic agent.)

The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe is attributed to the ancient Norse goddess Frigga, whose son was killed by a mistletoe wood arrow. Her grief was so great that the other Norse gods resurrected him. In gratitude, she declared mistletoe to be a plant of peace, and decreed that people who pass beneath it should exchange kisses.

As the song says: There'll be much mistletoeing and hearts will be glowing, so get out there and enjoy a little holiday cheer!


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