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I have been interested in nature for most of my life but since I retired I spend as much time as I can exploring the nature reserves and wildlife hotspots of my adopted home, Dorset in southern England. Whilst out I record what I see and take snaps where I can (I am no photographer!) and that forms the basis of my Nature of Dorset website. When I find something new I like to research it and write about it in my nature notes, it is how I learn and hopefully you might find my notes helpful as well!

This website is for the people of Dorset interested in wildlife and for people from elsewhere interested in the wildlife of Dorset!

04 January, 2017

Mistletoe: give us a kiss

Mistletoe (Viscum album) is inextricably linked with Christmas but being evergreen it can be seen all year round although It is now quite scarce. It is a parasitic plant that grows only on standard trees but, unlike some parasites, it does not kill its host, just raids it for nutrients. Most often associated with apple orchards but it does appear on other trees including hawthorn, lime and poplar but it is rarely found on oak. 
It is quite unmistakable and cannot be confused with anything else. It grows in large clumps usually high up on tree branches and so the flower are not easily seen. The male and female flowers grow on separate plants and both are out from February through to April each year. The white berries it produces do not appear until November or December and are very sticky which birds like to eat but when they have eaten the flesh of the berry they end up with the seed stuck to their beaks. In attempt to rid themselves of it they wipe their beak on a branch, the seed comes off and a new mistletoe plant is born. Reproduction in nature can be so specialised you have to wonder how on earth such complex evolution came about without the plant becoming extinct in the process!
It is, of course, traditional to hang mistletoe in the house at Christmas and for couples to kiss under it. Apparently this tradition dates back to the Druids and pre-roman Britain! Being green all year round and with white berries appearing in December it was seen as a sign of fertility. I guess the kissing under the mistletoe often led to other fertility activities? 
Mistletoe: give us a kiss