Ready or not, Christmas is just days away. Among the many trappings we associate with Christmas such as gifts, traveling, ugly sweaters, and more, we also bring a variety of plants into our homes.
The Christmas tree was first used for pagan solstice holidays, it was adopted by Christians in Germany.
Another plant that gets brought inside is a piece of mistletoe. Mistletoe is an interesting plant with an interesting history. Mistletoe refers to any of more than 200 species of semi-parasitic shrubs found worldwide. Mistletoe lives throughout the southern United States, and on every continent except Antarctica.
The use of mistletoe to get a kiss stems from England at least as early as the 1500’s. In 1520, William Irving wrote that a young man should pluck a berry each time he kisses a young girl beneath the mistletoe. When all the berries are plucked off the mistletoe, it no longer has romantic powers. A version of the tradition persists today in Christmas decorations but we don’t worry about the berry thing. As a matter of fact it may be best to make sure the berries are not present because of their toxic qualities.
The name “mistletoe” has an interesting, and less than romantic, story behind its name. Several hundred years ago, it was thought that the mistletoe plant was formed spontaneously from bird droppings. Of course no one thought to look inside the bird droppings for a concealed seed. However, due to this error, the plant was given the name mistletoe which translates literally in English to “dung-on-a-twig.” I think we should stick to the name mistletoe because “meet me under the dung-on-a-twig” doesn’t set the right mood.
Mistletoe's distinctive green leaves, stems, and white berries--each with a sticky seed inside--are easily recognizable. As a small seedling, it roots into the bark and wood of a tree and makes a connection with the growing ring of the host. Although mistletoe makes its own food, it steals water and nutrients from its host tree.
Unlike poinsettias, mistletoe is poisonous. Between 1985 and 1992, U.S. poison control centers reported 1,754 cases of accidental poisoning of children or pets with mistletoe. Accidental ingestion of American mistletoe is very serious, so keep the plants and decorations out of the reach of children and pets.
Shaniqua Davis is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Upshur County. Her email address is Shaniqua.email@example.com
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