Mistletoe

©Zsuzsanna Bird

Mistletoe

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Scientific name: Viscum album
Kissing under the Mistletoe is a much-loved Christmas tradition, making this plant familiar to us all. It actually grows as a parasite on trees - look for it hanging off branches in large balls during winter.

Top facts

Stats

Diameter: up to 1m

Conservation status

Common.

When to see

January to December

About

Floating in lifeless trees, growing from thin air, it's easy to see how people in pastimes thought Mistletoe was magical. In fact, Mistletoe is a parasite and gets most of its food from its host tree - it especially likes apple, lime and Hawthorn trees. Mistletoe berries are a favourite of birds such as Blackcaps: they eat the fat-rich pith, but leave the seed attached to the branch, accidentally spreading the seeds and making it possible for a new plant to take root.

What to look for

Mistletoe is an evergreen, but is best seen during the winter months (November to February) when great balls of it hang from the bare branches of host trees. Look for the familiar, white sticky berries (poisonous to humans) and the branching stems with small, oval leaves.

Where to find

Mainly found in Central and Southern England.

Did you know?

One of our most practised Christmas traditions - kissing under the Mistletoe - comes from Victorian times when a boy could win a kiss from a girl for each Mistletoe berry he picked from his bunch. This game probably originated from a Norse legend in which the goddess Frigga declared Mistletoe a symbol of love.