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The magic of mistletoe explains UVM Extension Gardener | Environment
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The magic of mistletoe explains UVM Extension Gardener | Environment

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American mistletoe is a hemiparasitic, or hemi-parasitic, plant that is commonly found in the midwest and southern states. It affects more than 100 species of trees. (Franco Folini/Creative Commons)

Mistletoe, which is used to spread holiday cheer by hanging in doors, is rich in mythology as well as tradition.

Mistletoe is derived from the Old English word mistiltan, where “mistiltan”, which means “dung”, and “tan,” means “twig”. This is definitely counterintuitive to mistletoe’s romantic symbolism.

Mistletoe is the common term for more than 1,300 species worldwide of ancient hemiparasitic plants belonging to the Viscaceae family. All plants belonging to the Santalales family that can produce food through photosynthesis, while also receiving water and nutrients from a host.

The European mistletoe (Viscum album) and the American mistletoe (Phoradendron serotinum) are the two species of mistletoe sold at Christmastime.

European mistletoe is oval-shaped and has smooth edges. It produces two to six dense clusters with waxy white berries. American mistletoe, on the other hand, has shorter leaves and clusters that contain 10 or more berries. Both mistletoes have poisonous parts.

More than 100 tree species are affected by American mistletoe, including oaks. It can be found in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant toughiness zones 6-11, from New Jersey to Florida to east Texas. It blooms between July and September. Each female flower produces one white berry, which ripens in winter.

The seeds spread by birds’ droppings or hitchhiking on feathers of birds. Each seed is coated in viscin, a glue like substance that allows the seed’s attachment to the bark of the host trees it germinates on.

The mythical and medical history of mistletoe dates back to Europe’s Classical era. The Greeks used Viscum album It is used as a remedy for a variety of conditions and by the Romans to heal poisons, epilepsy, and ulcers.

Historians believe that mistletoe’s romantic myth was created by the Celtic druids in first century A.D. They believed the plant had supernatural fertility powers and could have baptized it with their magical powers of cold winter. They considered it sacred and used its fertility to improve the fertility of both humans and animals.

Frigg, the Norse goddess of love casts a spell upon all plants to make sure that no weapon could be used against her son Baldur. Baldur is killed by an arrow made from mistletoe because she forgot to include mistletoe. Frigg declares mistletoe as a symbol for love and promises to kiss everyone who walks under it.

Historians are unsure how this Christmas myth came to be, but they can trace the roots of the practice back in the lyrics of a folk tune published in England in 1784.

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The association of mistletoe with Christmas holidays can be traced back at an 18th-century English folk song. (photo: Julita Bodensee-Schweiz/Pixabay)

In winter, mistletoe is easy to spot in trees. It forms large green balls on bare branch branches and is easily visible. It does best in full sunlight or partial shade.

It is a parasitic plant, but it is beneficial to our ecosystem. It does not cause damage to trees in areas with abundant water. Mistletoe generally affects older trees that are larger than others, and provides birds with safe nesting areas and cover.

Its highly nutritious fruits are a great food source to small animals, birds, or insects. The American mistletoe is essential to all stages of the great purple hairstreak butterfly.

Europeans have been using it for centuries Viscum album Traditional medicine. They use it today in prescription drugs and dietary supplementation. They also consider using it for cancer treatment. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved mistletoe as a treatment for any medical condition.

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