When you think of winter and Christmas time, one of the main plants of importance that comes to mind is evergreen trees.
However, there are other plants that play a significant role in your wintertime decorations. One of them is actually a parasitic plant that feeds and lives off of other plants. The plant I am referring to is mistletoe.
Mistletoe gets all of its water and mineral needs from its host plant. However, it is capable of producing part of its food needs through photosynthesis. Often times, you will find mistletoe growing in oaks, elms and hickories.
Leafy mistletoe can be very attractive. Often having red, pink or white berries that birds love to eat. Berries that are consumed, will often pass, unaffected through the bird's system or will rub off the offending sticky substance from their beak onto the branch they're perched on. Once on a branch, the seed will then dry and be protected by the viscin. The viscin will keep the rain from washing the seed off the branch. Then in the spring, the seed will germinate and grow. Once the mistletoe is established, it can live for many years or until its host dies.
There are many stories surrounding the history of mistletoe. The Celts thought mistletoe was a divine plant. That is because it was "rooted" above all other plants, high in the trees, and therefore, closer to heaven. The Scandinavians believed that mistletoe was blessed by the goddess of love. They thought that if warriors met under it, they would stop battling, kiss and then make up.
Some believe that mistletoe is a sign that spring will come soon since it stays green all winter. Others believe that by hanging a sprig of it over a doorway, you will ward off evil spirits and show that past grievances and hatreds are forgotten. Over time, it has been used for medicinal purposes, despite being poisonous.
However, most children will say that mistletoe is a decoration that they don't want to be caught under because many movies and holiday traditions in the U.S. specify that you should kiss who ever you are standing with under the mistletoe. This tradition most likely stems from its reputation as an aphrodisiac and a fertility source. It was even used in England at one point as a New Year's decoration before being incorporated into the Christmas holiday.
Mistletoe is a unique plant that is rooted in a lot of history. Many do not realize that it is actually a parasitic plant that survives by living off of another plant and is not generally seen growing around here as it prefers warmer climates. However, it is not uncommon to see a sprig of it hanging around doorframes this time of year.
Remember when you see it, that there have been many traditions associated with it throughout time.
As always, if you have any questions or would like information on any agriculture, horticulture, or natural resource topic, please contact your local Purdue Extension Office at 448-9041 in Clay County or 812-829-5020 in Owen County, or reach me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Upcoming opportunities available to you through Purdue Extension include:
* Dec. 11 -- Pinecone Birdfeeder Fest, McCormick's Creek State Park, 1 p.m.,
* Dec. 14 -- PARP Program, Cloverdale High School cafeteria, 6 p.m. Cost $10, and
* Dec. 23-24 -- Extension Office Closed.