It wouldn’t be Christmas without mistletoe

I remember the time (just saying this makes me feel old), when a bunch of mistletoe would be hanging in most homes for Christmas. Is ‘Health and Safety’ putting an end to this Christmas tradition? If mistletoe is less available to buy now, you could always grow your own.

Viscum album, the common European mistletoe, is a parasitic plant that commonly grows on apple trees, limes, hawthorn and poplars, although it has a wide range of hosts. Although it grows on trees, it is not a woodland plant, and prefers an open position with plenty of light, and is most commonly seen in gardens, orchards, parkland and churchyards. Often arriving ‘spontaneously’, it can also be introduced on to the host plant using ripe berries in March (those sold at Christmas are not unripe and not suitable); these can be sourced from an existing plant or bought from a supplier such as The English Mistletoe Shop (to whom I have no connection, it’s just that a Google search brought up their details). For the best chance of a successful result, the seeds should come from the same host as you trying to grow your own mistletoe on, from an apple to grow on an apple, and so on.

First, extract the seed from the berries, a fiddly and very sticky job. The seeds then need to be put on the host tree. The easiest method is to push them into crevices on the tree, the point where a young branch joins an older one being the most suitable. Alternatively, make a T-shaped cut in the bark of a young branch, carefully lift to two flaps and insert the berry under them. Whichever method you use, you should be prepared for a low percentage uptake; either the mistletoe fails to ‘take’, or birds will find the berries and eat them! You will  also need to be patient.

After three years, the first pair of leaves will appear.

viscum-album-2-2014

As long as these aren’t removed by birds, your mistletoe will now grow, doubling in size each year. Here is one in its third year of visible growth (six years after the berry was put on the tree).

viscum-album-2016

Just to add a further spanner in the works, mistletoes are either male or female, and you need both sexes to get berries. Of course, there is no way to know what sex your emerging plant is, so getting any is a hit-and-miss affair, but just getting it to establish is an achievement.

Just don’t tell Health and Safety.

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2 thoughts on “It wouldn’t be Christmas without mistletoe

  1. Here in Worcestershire we are in the heart of mistletoe land, it seems to grow everywhere to the point people give it away at Christmas! It used to be associated in Victorian times with family love, Christmas cards show families embracing under the mistletoe but around the time of the First World War it became more associated with kissing your sweetheart and I think this association now makes it less popular than it used to be.

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    1. It’s not that common around here in Bracknell, Berkshire, although there is some on poplar trees further along my road. I purchased the seed of plants growing on apple trees about six years ago, and now have a single one growing on an apple in my garden (the only one to ‘take’)

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