Viscum album - Europe,
Phoradendron flavescens or serotinum - N. America
Viscum album - Europe, Phoradendron flavescens or serotinum - N. America
Mistletoe is believed by pagans to give protection, and be useful in love, to be a bestower of life and fertility, a protector against poison, and an aphrodisiac.
It can be worn as a protective amulet (well as an amulet anyhow). It was thought to be a good anti-lightning charm. To divert lightning a branch should be placed above the doorway to your house to protect it during thunderstorms. Supposedly extinguishes fires (can't find any details how though). The branch also prevents the entrance of witches if hung above a doorway - but what if you meet one in the doorway? Is a kiss in order?
For the most effective magic (get this) it's supposed to be harvested using a golden sickle during a full moon - seems like a good excuse to me - "It would have worked but I only had my ordinary sickle on me....."
Botanically mistletoe is a partial parasite (a semiparasite). Seeds spread by birds (often in their droppings - which act as glue and fertiliser) germinate and grow on the branches or trunk of a tree. The plant sends out roots that penetrate into the tree. It certainly takes up water and mineral nutrients from the tree as it has no other source, but it makes its own food by photosynthesis as do other green plants, rather than feeding entirely from its host.
The name mistletoe was derived from the belief that the plant spontaneously grew from bird droppings (although I'm sure that even in pre-history people realised that birds could spread seeds by eating berries and flying off and pooping it out sometime later).
"Mistel" is an old Anglo-Saxon word for "dung," and "tan" is the word for "twig". Mistletoe therefore means "dung-on-a-twig". I feel sorry for the poor old "Mistle-thrush" what a name.
The seeds are very sticky and when birds that been feeding on mistletoe berries clean their beaks, they often do so by wiping them on the bark of trees, so further placing the seeds in the right place.
Viscum album, the commonest European form is sometimes seen on oak trees, but far more commonly on apples. There are other related species that grow on pine trees. It is when growing on oak that mistletoe was supposed to have its most magical powers.
English and Welsh farmers would give the Christmas bunch of mistletoe to the first cow that calved in the New Year. This gave good luck to the entire herd.
The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe is first seen in the Roman festival of Saturnalia ( though some ascribe it to the Scandinavians from the belief it is a plant of peace and harmony, see below) and later in marriage rites.
There is a legend both Roman and also Norse that is essentially the same though with different characters:
Mistletoe kissing etiquette dictates that a man should pluck a berry when he kisses a woman under a branch of the plant, when the last berry is gone, there should be no more kissing! Girls who refuse to be kissed under the mistletoe will remain spinsters and become "old maids".
Mistletoe was believed to have the power of fertility. In some parts of England the Christmas mistletoe was burned on twelfth night. If it wasn't then the boys and girls who kissed under it may never marry.
In Scandinavia, mistletoe was considered a plant of peace and harmony. Enemies could declare a truce or warring spouses kiss and make-up under a branch of mistletoe.
The early Christian church banned the use of mistletoe in Christmas celebrations because of its pagan origins. Church fathers suggested the use of holly as an appropriate substitute for Christmas greenery. As was the case with holly, simply having the taint of paganism wasn't going to let people ignore such an excellent winter decoration as mistletoe. This must have been especially true given that it provided excuses to kiss members of the opposite sex at parties, so the Christianization of mistletoe began and convenient legends were made up - err sorry - rediscovered. One legend was that mistletoe used to be a tree, the wood of which was used to make Christ's crucifixion cross. As punishment for its role in the death of Christ, mistletoe was cursed and not welcome on the earth having to return as a parasite dependent on other trees for its life.
(Phoradendron flavescens or serotinum) is the state flower of Oklahoma. Mistletoe grows on trees throughout the state and is particularly abundant in the southern regions of the state. The dark green leaves and white berries show up brightly during the autumn and winter in trees that have shed their own leaves.
To the early pioneers who saw the mistletoe growing thick and luxuriantly in the trees in the bleak winter months, it became an inspiration signifying survival, hardiness and endurance. During the winter, as in Northern Europe, it was often the only greenery available to put on graves or to use at weddings. As pioneers, they ignored the pagan history and associations of mistletoe.
It became the official flower of Oklahoma Territory (and later the State of Oklahoma) in 1893, initially against the wishes of some churches due to the pagan associations. In the language of flowers, mistletoe means "I surmount all difficulties", very appropriate for the pioneers.
Evergreen plants have been considered to be potent symbols of growth and re-birth particularly in Europe and Western Asia for thousands of years. They were used in winter festivities as a means of ensuring that life and growth would return again in the spring.
The plants that we now bring into our homes at Christmas time are almost without exception, taken from pagan midwinter feasts of Northern Europe rather than from Christian origins and pre-date modern religious significance which has been overlaid onto the older traditions.
One of the main differences is that we now bring such greenery into our homes much sooner than used to be done. Theoretically it shouldn't be brought into the house until Christmas Eve as this was considered bad luck. Although Christmas is just far too exciting an event for most people who celebrate it to wait - particularly if you have children!
Garden Supplies Online
| Design |
Buy plants online |
Garden buildings |
Copyright © Paul Ward 2000 - 2013