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Cornucopia - Mistletoe

Yvonne Matthews

Some years there is a scarcity of mistletoe and at Christmas-tide even the smallest bunch for sale will be expensive, when the cost is high one is tempted to grow one’s own. As mistletoe is a parasite it is not as simple to grow as other plants, first one must find a suitable host to grow it on. Apple, hawthorn, maple, lime, sycamore, Prunus and Cotoneaster are likely hosts. One enterprising gardener near Portholland even used an olive tree growing outside. With mistletoe patience is advocated and gathering fresh berries at Christmas, they need to be kept cool for sowing after Christmas and on up to April. On the host tree one needs to find a healthy young smooth branch, about the thickness of a finger or larger to attach the seed onto the side or underside of the branch out of the sun but not in heavy shade. Squeeze your berry until the seed pops out, slide the seed onto the side of the branch or make a small nick in the bark to hold it. The natural stickiness should hold it in place but to stop birds removing it or pecking out the new shoot you can use clear sticky tape wrapped around the branch to hold it in place. A grease band around the branch will help prevent woodlice damage. Germination should begin in April and the radicules bend around until they contact the bark and form a kind of plug like seaweed that fastens and hardens. A green root-like growth sinks through the bark and by the end of the season the mistletoe seedlings will be growing. Do not remove the seedcase, the emerging leaves will eventually do this.

We buy mistletoe to hang up for decoration and the translucent white berries were plucked as token kisses and with no berries left there would be no more kisses. The church does not favour mistletoe as decoration as it smacks of Druids and paganism.

In Eastern Europe there are yellow-berried mistletoes while in the tropics the parasite genus Loranthus with scarlet and yellow flowers grows high up on the trees. Loranthus has a much larger plug than our native mistletoe Viscum alba and it forms wooden channels of Corinth design and hardens, when the host tree dies these ornamental plugs fall to the ground and rot. There have been attempts to hybridise this tropical parasite with our native Viscum in years past and there could be interesting developments in the future.

First published in the Cornwall Group Newsletter, December 2011
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 30.
© Copyright for this article: Yvonne Matthews

This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2012. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.

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