<CharlieDigital/> Programming, Politics, and uhh…pineapples

23Dec/10Off

Mistletoe: Weirder Than You Ever Imagined…

In my 29 years of life, I've never once thought much of mistletoe.  We all know the holiday songs, kissing under the mistletoe, etc.  But just what the heck is the stuff?

An NPR story on the harvesting of mistletoe piqued my interest:

He settles on around 35 feet, but Anderson can handle it. At 60 years old, he's a seasoned climber with all the proper safety gear. And he likes being up in the trees — he says it's both challenging and peaceful up there.
That's one reason you won't find him on the ground with a gun, shooting the mistletoe out of the tree. That's how many people harvest it. Anderson laughs, agreeing that the rifle method is easier.

He settles on around 35 feet, but Anderson can handle it. At 60 years old, he's a seasoned climber with all the proper safety gear. And he likes being up in the trees — he says it's both challenging and peaceful up there.
That's one reason you won't find him on the ground with a gun, shooting the mistletoe out of the tree. That's how many people harvest it. Anderson laughs, agreeing that the rifle method is easier.

Interesting.  So it turns out that mistletoe is harvested from the tops of trees.  Okay, but why?  Wikipedia to the rescue*:

Mistletoe is the common name for a group of hemi-parasitic plants in the order Santalales that grow attached to and within the branches of a tree or shrub. The name was originally applied to Viscum album (European Mistletoe, Santalaceae), the only species native in Great Britain and much of Europe.

Mistletoe plants grow on a wide range of host trees, and commonly reduce their growth but can kill them with heavy infestation. Viscum album can parasitise more than 200 tree and shrub species. Almost all mistletoes are hemi-parasites, bearing evergreen leaves that do some photosynthesis, and using the host mainly for water and mineral nutrients.

Fascinating stuff!  And the kissing stuff?

According to Christmas custom, any two people who meet under a hanging of mistletoe are obliged to kiss. The custom may be of Scandinavian origin.  It was described as early as 1820 by Washington Irving in his "The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon":

"The mistletoe is still hung up in farm-houses and kitchens at Christmas, and the young men have the privilege of kissing the girls under it, plucking each time a berry from the bush. When the berries are all plucked the privilege ceases."

And of course, that tradition is probably tied to this little tidbit:

In cultures across pre-Christian Europe, mistletoe was seen as a representation of divine male essence (and thus romance, fertility and vitality), possibly due to a resemblance between the berries and semen

So there you have it: mistletoe is divine male essence.  Probably more than you ever needed to know about mistletoe and an interesting conversation starter for your holiday get-togethers 😀

Happy Holidays!

* By the way, if you haven't done so already, consider making a donation to Wikipedia this year.  It's tax deductible and it keeps Wiki free of ads!

Posted by Charles Chen

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  1. Very cool story. I love stories like that. Thanks!


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