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MISTLETOE : Viscum album

We all know mistletoe. It is that stuff that is hung up in a strategic position at Christmas mischieviously or strategically to illicit a kiss. It grows all about us, but usually rather high up and is difficult to pick so plastic replicas appear in our supermarkets - green with white berries. 

That is our winter perception of mistletoe. As spring arrives we so often confuse it for crows' nests. Both are rather large globular bunches of straggly twigs. 

But mention mistletoe and its romanitic connotations come to mind first. Quite how that arose is obscure. Mistletoe is actually a small semi-parasitic evergreen shrub the leaves, stems and berries of which are all poisonous. Mistletoe, also known as Phoradendron vilosum, is poisonous to birds. All parts of the plant are toxic, although the berries cause an especially severe reaction because they contain high amounts of viscotoxin. 

But we don't want to spoil that romantic aspect of the plant. Quite how that arose is very speculative. Perhaps, as has been suggested, it was due to the druids. The druids themselves are not renowned for being romanitc, but they are likely to have associated mistletoe with magical meaning. The Winter Solstice falls on the shortest day of the year (21st December) and was celebrated in Britain long before the arrival of Christianity. The Druids (Celtic priests) would cut the mistletoe that grew on the oak tree and give it as a blessing. Oaks were seen as sacred and the winter fruit of the mistletoe was a symbol of life in the dark winter months. Because mistletoe could blossom even during the frozen winter, the Druids came to be seen as a sacred symbol of vivacity and fertility.

Straggly balls of mistletoe high up in a tree.

BBC : https://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/paganism/holydays/wintersolstice.shtml#:~:text=The%20Druids%20%28Celtic%20priests%29%20would%20cut%20the%20mistletoe,who%20began%20the%20tradition%20of%20the%20yule%20log.

HISTORY.COM : https://www.history.com/news/why-do-we-kiss-under-the-mistletoe

SCOTTISH WILDLIFE TRUST : https://scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk/2015/12/a-folktale-about-mistletoe/

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