Many homes were adorned with a sprig of mistletoe during the festive season, the modern tradition being that it is permissible to steal a kiss underneath said sprig. The folklore around mistletoe is immense and would require a book length article, rather too long for The Villager.
Surprisingly there are almost 1500 varieties of mistletoe worldwide. Most varieties grow in the tropics with Europe being at their northerly limit having only four species and the UK having just one. One European species has red berries and grows on olive trees, another has yellow berries and grows on oaks and around the Mediterranean there is a dwarf species that grows on juniper.
Mistletoe is semi-parasitic, relying on the host for nutrients but its green leaves mean it is partly self-sufficient. It mainly grows on apple trees but also on lime, poplar and hawthorn, rarely on other trees. Brightwell-cum-Sotwell is host to a lot of mistletoe because of the many old orchards in the village. It can easily be seen in winter on limes and poplars, though most is in gardens and orchards on fruit trees and not so visible.
Nationally, the loss of old apple orchards has led to a decline in the amount of mistletoe. A survey in the 1990s highlighted the importance of garden trees in maintaining the mistletoe population. There is evidence that recently mistletoe is undergoing a wider distribution, a change thought to be bird related. Historically the Mistle Thrush has been the main consumer, taking the whole berry and then the seed is passed and some then stick on tree branches and more mistletoe grows. Enter the Blackcap - over the last 20 years the number of these birds coming from Germany and overwintering in the UK has greatly increased. They too eat mistletoe, but only the flesh, not the seed which often gets stuck to their beaks and is then wiped off onto the tree branches. This is thought to be helping to increase the amount and distribution of mistletoe.
A national survey is being held to find out the status and distribution of mistletoe. Most UK mistletoe grows in Herefordshire and Gloucestershire but it can be found in all areas. To help me make a return for this survey I would like to hear from any household that has mistletoe growing in their garden. It would be helpful if you state the type of tree the mistletoe is growing on, if it is apple the variety if known (there is a theory that mistletoe prefers certain varieties.). Contact me on 01491 836661 or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, if anyone would like to try and grow mistletoe on their apple trees I would be happy to supply seed and show how it is done. This would be in late February, early March. If you have a go on your own do not use seed from mistletoe harvested at Christmas as the berries will not be ripe.
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