All about mistletoe

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 16, 2006

Have you ever received a kiss under the mistletoe? If so, this plant causes less harm to you than then its host plant (depending on whom the kiss was from of course).

Mistletoe is considered a parasitic plant.

It extracts some water and nutrients from its host plant, usually a tree.

However some functions, like photosynthesis, are performed by mistletoe.

The presence of a mistletoe cluster in a tree may slightly reduce the vigor of the limb where it grows.

On the other hand, heavy infestations may have a negative effect on the entire tree.

Proper cultural practices (irrigation, fertilization, pruning and aeration) are the best defense you can offer a tree.

Mistletoe seeds are spread by birds which eat the berries.

It was recently discovered that mistletoe is important for many tree dwelling animals.

Some animals eat the leaves and others use it for shelter.

This plant has a long love/hate history.

Ancient Celts thought the evergreen mistletoe kept the spirits of the deciduous oaks during the winter.

Ancient Germans called it Gut Hyl or &uot;all heal.&uot;

They considered it an antidote to poison even though contact with its berries often produced a rash similar to poison ivy.

The award for the ultimate love/hate story goes to the Vikings.

They believed the Norse god, Balder, was the best loved of all the gods.

His mother was Frigga, goddess of love and beauty.

When Balder was born, Frigga obsessed with concerns for her son’s safety.

She made every creature, plant, and object promise they would do no harm to him. Unfortunately, Frigga forgot to extract a promise from the mistletoe.

It is told that the evil god, Loki, tricked Balder’s blind brother, Hoder, into throwing a mistletoe spear or arrow at Balder which inadvertently killed this god of sunlight and vegetation.

Balder’s death brought winter into the world and caused Frigga to cry so pitifully that her tears turned into the plant’s white berries.

Fortunately, the gods restored Balder to life. Frigga declared that the mistletoe must ever after bring love rather than death into the world. Everyone passing under this plant had to embrace as Frigga planted a kiss of gratitude upon them in memory of the resurrection of her son.

For help with cultural practices, call the Extension Office at 534-2711 or email me at

Kissing under the mistletoe is now a popular Christmas custom. However, few remember that a berry of the plant is to be plucked off for each kiss. When the sprig runs out of berries, there is to be no more kissing until a new sprig is hung and the berry handler’s rash has healed.