Go ahead...pucker up
Being kissed under the mistletoe has been a Christmas tradition for more than a thousand years. But mistletoe is not only associated with a gentle kiss, it has a lore all its own.
To the ancient Scandinavians, mistletoe symbolized peace. Enemies meeting under the mistletoe declared a truce until the following day. On a more domestic note, disgruntled spouses kissed and made up under the greenery.
The Druids believed mistletoe possessed magical powers. Their priests cut the plant with golden sickles and gathered the trimmings on white cloth so the plant would never touch the earth and lose its enchantment.
The French didn’t like it. They said mistletoe was cursed because it grew on the wood from which the cross of Christ was made and that it was doomed to be a rootless parasite forever.
In the Middle Ages, mistletoe was hung from ceilings in Europe to ward off evil, or it was dangled over doors to prevent the entrance of witches. If mistletoe was suspended over a crib, the child was said to be safe from kidnapping.
Viking lore describes the goddess of love, Frigga, who made each plant and animal promise not to kill her son Baldur. She forgot the mistletoe plant and Baldur was killed by a spear made from it. The white berries on the mistletoe are said to have been created from her tears.
When she believed that her son returned to life, Frigga proclaimed the mistletoe sacred. She kissed everyone who passed under it and decreed the plant should henceforth bring love. This is said to be the origin of kissing under the mistletoe.
So go ahead. Kiss under the mistletoe, have fun doing it, and give a nod to Frigga for starting a very enjoyable custom.
Characteristics of Mistletoe
Mistletoe (Phoradendron flavescens or Viscum album) is a parasitic plant that grows on trees, particularly hardwood trees like oak and apple. A parasite is a plant or animal that needs another plant or animal to survive. As mistletoe grows on a tree, it uses its roots to invade a tree’s bark, which allows mistletoe to absorb the tree’s nutrients. Sometimes, mistletoe can harm a tree and cause deformities in a tree’s branches, but usually it doesn’t kill its host. If the host dies, the mistletoe dies.
Mistletoe produces its own food by photosynthesis, and is able to live on its own, although it is mostly found in trees. It’s common for a mistletoe plant to grow on top of another mistletoe plant.
The plant is easy to spot in the winter because its leaves stay green all year long. In the United States, it grows in tropical and subtropical regions (from New Jersey to Florida). It has pointy, green, leathery leaves, with waxy berries that are either red or white. The plant’s flowers can appear in a wide variety of colors, from bright red to yellow to green.
Ingesting mistletoe can cause severe stomach cramps and diarrhea, and in some cases can be fatal. If you have mistletoe in your house this holiday season, be sure that it is in a place where children and pets won’t be able to get to it.
Spreading the Seed
The red-and-white berries that grow on mistletoe are eaten by birds that eventually leave their droppings at their favorite hangout spot—on a tree branch. The droppings contain seeds that sprout roots into the tree branch. The birds also help spread the seed by wiping their beaks on the tree bark to clean off the sticky seeds after they’ve eaten. The seeds are sticky because of the juice inside the berry. This stickiness helps the seeds stay in the tree rather than falling to the ground. Within six weeks, the mistletoe plant begins growing, although it takes five years to flower.
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