Don't stand under mistletoe with anyone else but
By By Steve Strong / area horticulture extension agent
Dec 3, 2003
Ever had one of those relationships that really gets under your skin? The intimacy between oaks and mistletoe is one such union, and is a betrothal which lovers can only dream of.
The romantic anticipation of kissing under the mistletoe has its roots entwined in ancient lore, dating back to the days of the Druids and beyond. The Druids embraced the mighty oak as a sacred symbol, and because mistletoe is evergreen, regarded it as a holy symbol of everlasting life.
They believed that mistletoe possessed special healing virtues, and because it grows above the ground, treated it as though it were a gift from heaven. Divining rods and omen sticks were made from it and were used both for discovering hidden treasure and dispelling unwelcome evil spirits.
It was also custom for Druid boys to run from house to house with mistletoe to announce the new year. Although early Christian ministers forbade the pagan use of mistletoe in churches, it did manage to get in and eventually became a symbol of goodwill to all mankind.
The English tradition of kissing balls, made from evergreen hoops with a sprig of mistletoe, symbolized the holiday season long before the Christmas tree was adopted.
Early American pioneers settling in the Old West felt something special about this evergreen sprig, possibly due to the plant's ability to survive even the most adverse conditions. The great state of Oklahoma even went so far as to make mistletoe its state flower.
Mistletoe survives by winding its root-like structures deep into the sapwood of the tree, often wrapping completely around the inner bark in all directions. And although mistletoe is considered a parasitic plant, a true parasite cannot kill its host without also dying in the process.
It is practically impossible to get rid of, much like an obsessive "fatal attraction," but mistletoe rarely causes serious damage to a tree. Instead, it tends to attack trees and shrubs that are already under stress, whether caused by growing conditions or some physical injury (poor drainage, soil compaction, building construction, lawn mower and weed-eater injury).
Cutting a mistletoe-infected branch completely off, or digging it out of a branch along with the host tissue are the only effective ways to kill it. This can leave open wounds that may invite insects or disease, so you might just want to leave it alone and enjoy it.
Mistletoe is one of the only green plants displayed in the winter forest canopy, and the female plant has attractive (though poisonous) white berries this time of year. The berries are relished by a large number of migrating songbirds traveling through during the winter, giving gardeners an extra reason to leave it hanging around.
Mistletoe sprouts from seeds, and is carried from tree to tree by birds and other animals you can also introduce it to the bark of nearby trees if you need a local supply for Christmas lip service. Mistletoe is not deadly, is not practical to control, and should therefore be prized for its "Merry Kissmas" contribution to the holiday season.
Just as sure as the leaves drop from the trees in winter, some nearby friend or neighbor with rake in hand will soon be fretting around the yard about the mistletoe that is killing their trees. Strange how those trees seemed to be just fine all summer long when the foliage was still on them.
Perhaps you might share this bit of mistletoe info with them, to be neighborly and brighten their holiday spirits. Just be careful where you're standing when you converse, or you may receive a more affectionate thank-you than you were expecting.