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From kissing traditions at Christmas to ancient fertility rites, mistletoe has long been regarded as a magical plant.
Mistletoe colonies are vital for six species of insect that live nowhere else. It is the County flower of Herefordshire and is often harvested as a winter crop from their cider and perry orchards.
Found across the UK, however its heartland is in the English / Welsh border counties and Somerset. Despite this, all is not well. The loss of traditional apple orchards has hit mistletoe hard and the work of birds such as the Mistle Thrush in smearing seeds on new branches may not be enough to counteract this decline.
It can be found hanging in broadleaf trees, orchard trees and others, especially lime and poplar.
February to April when it flowers or winter when its berries appear.
The scientific name of this white berry can translate as “white goo”. Local names include Churchman’s Greeting, Kiss-and-go, Masslin, Misle and Mislin-Bush.
It is said to overcome epilepsy and this is not altogether fanciful since it has an active principle which is antispasmodic and reduces blood pressure.
It is often associated with the ancient Druids, whose reverence of the plant during the winter solstice was described by Pliny and Caesar. Perhaps it was the sight of its pearly white berries growing apparently rootless, high above the ground, in the largely dead months of winter. Like holly and ivy – also revered – mistletoe appears to be in its prime when other wild flowers have gone.
Mistletoe harvesting at Joans Hill
Discover this Christmas classic’s unusual way of surviving, alongside a host of other fascinating parasitic plants, in this in-depth read from Robbie Blackhall-Miles and Lizzie Wilberforce.
Narcissus pseudonarcissus ssp pseudonarcissus
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