Ho-ho, the Mistletoe

by Janie Schriewer 12/01/2019

Which winter-holiday celebration would be complete without a kiss under the mistletoe? This mysterious plant that appears above doorways and arches to catch unsuspecting lovers in a clinch adds fun and even drama to festive occasions. Ho-ho the mistletoe indeed!

Tradition … tradition!

The tradition of kissing under mistletoe began in ancient Rome during the festival of Saturnalia. Across Europe, mistletoe evokes magical, mysterious, and sacred folklore associated with fertility, life, peace, and political power. Greeks and Celtic druids celebrated its many mystical uses. In North America, author Washington Irving refers to the kissing custom in his story “Christmas Eve” from the 1820 collection of essays and stories The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. Irving shares that each time a couple kissed under a sprig of mistletoe they took one of the white berries. With every berry gone, the sprig no longer had kissing power.

In Europe, Viscum album, and in North America, Phoradendron serotinum, both with green foliage and small white flowers that become white berries, typically make the holiday décor and begin to appear in stores in late November. Those that don’t may have orange or yellow leaves (dwarf mistletoe) or might resemble a jumble of twigs (called dung twig or witch’s broom) making for a less appreciated spectacle indoors. 

  • With more than 1,300 species to choose from, only two mistletoe varieties make it into the celebration. 
  • The parasitic plant attaches to the branches of a variety of trees, pulling nutrients from the tree to itself. 
  • Clumps of evergreen begin to show when the leaves of deciduous trees fall in late autumn. 
  • Because the unisex plants are parasites, arborists consider them pests. 
  • Once mistletoe infects a host, it becomes difficult to remove and eventually disfigures or even kills the host tree.
  • More than 20 species make the worldwide endangered plant list.
  • Mammals, such as deer and elk, squirrels, chipmunks, and even porcupines eat the mistletoe’s berries. 
  • Many bluebirds, robins, chickadees, and other bird species, such as mourning doves, also eat the white berries.
  • Each white berry produces a single seed. As birds and other animals eat the berries and leave the seeds behind in droppings, new mistletoe grows and attaches to trees and plants.
  • Toxic to humans, both the leaves and berries of mistletoe may cause drowsiness, diarrhea, vomiting and nausea, blurred vision, weakness, and even seizures. Nevertheless, medicinal use of mistletoe goes back centuries for treating hypertension, arthritis, infertility, headaches, seizures and even some cancers, including colon cancer.
  • Three species of US butterflies rely on mistletoe to survive by laying eggs on the mistletoe so that young pupae can fee on the mistletoe nectar.
  • Certain bee species also rely on mistletoe for survival.

For information on harvesting or removing mistletoe from trees, contact a certified arborist.

About the Author

Janie Schriewer

Welcome to the Janie Schriewer & Associates at RE/MAX Results. Janie just wrapped up her 30th year in the business & over that time has been adapting to the always-evolving Real Estate industry. In recent years she has added 2 members: Her Son Derek—Licensed Buyer & Technology Specialist, and Buyers' associate Melissa Kelley. We are all full-service REALTORS who can assist with selling your home and/or finding you your next home. The added professionals mean potential Clients have more convenience for showings & direct communication with Franklin County areas real estate Leaders. 

Communication is crucial in Real Estate & Janie leads by example for our team as she prides herself on availability to her clients. Whether you prefer texting, phone calls, emails, or instant messaging, Janie Schriewer & Associates can accommodate. Whenever you want to talk to us or work with a REALTOR, the Schriewer’s have the experience & care to offer the right advice for your situation. We know the intricacies of negotiating a deal from the original offer to the signatures at closing as well as alleviating all of the hurdles that may arise in between. We treat you just like family. We care about you and what is best for you. Call Us today. Thank you as always for friends, past clients and customers we love referrals. Talk to you soon.