Since National Geographic published a nice article about mistletoe today on their News site, I figure it's time to blog about my mistletoe experience.
No, mine had nothing to do with kissing under the plant ... in fact I had no idea about these Christmas-time customs or even what mistletoe looked like.
The very last day that I was at the farm community in Austria last month, several of the men went off to the forest to cut some mistletoe off the trees.
Bruder Fritz, who founded the lay Franciscan commune in 1984, was kind enough to show me a cluster and explain about it.
Especially that the white berries are poisonous!
It is a parasite and "it keeps that lively green color by stealing water and soil minerals from its host tree," as the National Geographic says.
The article has nice photos of clusters in a tree and of various species and of birds eating the berries.
And the surprising news is
There’s also evidence to suggest that some species of mistletoe can be used in treating cancer—something that people have actually used it for since the 1920s. Doctors today can prescribe mistletoe in Europe. And at Johns Hopkins’ School of Medicine, doctors are performing the first rigorous, I.V. study of mistletoe’s effects on cancer patients in the U.S.
Here is a funny tidbit from the Oxford Dictionaries blog:
The custom [of Christmas kisses] seems to be restricted to England and the USA. I’ve asked friends from Germany, Austria, France, Belgium, Bulgaria, Spain, and even from Scotland and Ireland. Bavarians bring mistletoe into their homes and put it in vases but none of my fellow Europeans came across kissing under the mistletoe as children. Their countries know of the custom now, but from Hollywood, and they think of it as an English or American eccentricity.
UPDATE: Make sure to read readers' input in the comments. All kinds of interesting things coming in from USA, Canada, and Europe!
UPDATE Dec. 24:
BBC earth just published about mistletoe, including this interesting info about a good plant-animal symbiosis:
.Pairs of mistle thrushes will often set up a territory around individual trees and defend their stock of berries. But mistle thrushes are not actually very efficient at distributing mistletoe seeds. They eat the berries whole, defecating a sticky mix of pulp and seed half an hour later, when the birds are likely to have moved on.Much more efficient are blackcaps. These little birds eat the skin and pulp of the berry, but discard the sticky seed first, wiping it off their beaks against the bark of the tree. This is perfect for the mistletoe, as the seed is placed firmly against the branch ready for germination.
Interestingly, in recent years we’ve seen many more blackcaps migrating to Britain over winter, and this could be beneficial for mistletoe.
There is evidence that mistletoe is increasing in some areas and some of this could be down to blackcap activity, although this is likely to be a combination of factors, including better protection of the ancient apple orchards that are the most important habitat for mistletoe.