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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

Looking at holiday greenery

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

When you think of winter and Christmas, 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.

Mistletoe has 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 end up on the branch they're perched on.

Once on a branch, the seed will then dry and be protected by the viscin.

Viscin is a clear substance extracted from the sap of mistletoe and holly.

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 because it was "rooted" above all other plants, high in the trees, therefore making it closer to heaven.

The Scandinavians believed that mistletoe was blessed by the goddess of love and thought if warriors met under it, they would stop battling, kiss and make up.

Some believe mistletoe is a sign spring will come soon since it stays green all winter.

Others believe by hanging a sprig of it over a doorway, you will scare away evil spirits and show past grievances and hatreds are forgotten.

Overtime, it has been used for medicinal purposes, despite being poisonous.

However, most children will say mistletoe is a decoration that they don't want to be caught under because many movies and holiday traditions in the United States 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 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.

If you are around fresh mistletoe, make sure no human or pet consumes it as mistletoe can be toxic.

As always, if you have any questions or would like information on any agriculture, horticulture or natural resource topic, then 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 smith535@purdue.edu.

Purdue University is an equal opportunity/equal access/affirmative action institution.

Upcoming opportunities available to you through Purdue Extension include:

* Dec. 10 -- Flower Arranging Workshop, 10:30 a.m. Cost is $10 at the Clay County Extension Office. Call 448-9041 to register by Dec. 7,

* Dec. 11 -- Crop Production Clinic, 9 a.m.-1:45 p.m., Alexandria. Call 765-641-9514 to register,

* Dec. 13 -- Last Chance PARP Program, 1 p.m. Cost is $10 at the Clay County 4-H Exhibit Hall, and

* Dec. 18 -- Area IBCA Meeting, Clay County 4-H Exhibit Hall. Call 448-9041 to RSVP.

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