According to custom, if you’re caught standing under the mistletoe, you may get a kiss. For centuries, mistletoe has been considered a plant that increases life and fertility. Celtic Druids living in the 1st century A.D. viewed it as a symbol of vivacity, since it remained green while other plants were bare during winter. Some historians believe the connection between mistletoe and a kiss comes from ancient Norse mythology. According to happier versions of the legend, Baldur (sometimes spelled Baldr or Balder) was killed by an enemy’s arrow made of mistletoe. His mother, the goddess Frigg, wept tears onto the arrow. Her tears turned into white berries that she placed onto Baldur’s wound, bringing him back to life. Overjoyed, Frigg blessed the mistletoe plant and promised a kiss to all who passed beneath it.
So what, exactly, is mistletoe? The far-from-romantic answer is that it’s a parasitic plant, which means it depends on another plant for survival. Mistletoe can only grow if its seeds are carried to a “host” tree by birds that have eaten mistletoe berries. Typically, a bird will squeeze a mistletoe berry in its beak, squishing out a sticky, coated seed. The bird eats the fruit and cleans the sticky coating, called “viscin,” off its beak by wiping it against a nearby branch. As the viscin hardens, the seed becomes firmly attached to the host tree.
The mistletoe then invades the host, “stealing” nutrients and water from it. In fact, the scientific name for American mistletoe (Phoradendron) is Greek for “thief of the tree.”
More fun facts about mistletoe:
• Birds can eat mistletoe berries, but they’re highly toxic to humans.
• Approximately 20 species of mistletoe can be found on the endangered species list.
• Celtic Druids believed that mistletoe contained the spirit of the tree in which it grew; this was the only part of the tree that stayed green all winter.
The Kaslo Crow