Diatribe: Mistletoe – Embracing Beneath A Parasite.
Evergreen plants and trees have long been a favorite for use in decorations during the holidays. Favorites include the poinsettia, holly, laurel, rosemary, yews, boxwood, magnolias, Christmas trees and, of course, the peculiar tradition of mistletoe.
The custom of kissing beneath the mistletoe is said to have origins in ancient Scandinavia. The tradition was that if, while out in the woods, you happened to find yourself standing under this plant upon encountering a foe, you both had to lay down your arms until the following day. Eventually, the tradition led to kissing beneath the plant.
Most people don’t realize that mistletoe, by definition, is hardly romantic. Phoradendron, the scientific name for American mistletoe one of 1,300 species worldwide and one of only to native to the US, means “thief of the tree” in Greek. Although not a true parasite in scientific terms, it comes close … sinking its roots into a host tree and leeching nutrients from the tree to supplement its own photosynthesis. The plant’s seeds are extremely sticky and often stick onto birds’ beaks or feathers or the fur of other woodland creatures, hitchhiking to a likely host tree before dropping off and germinating.
“The mistletoe is still hung up in farm-houses and kitchens at Christmas, and the young men have the privilege of kissing the girls under it, plucking each time a berry from the bush. When the berries are all plucked the privilege ceases.” – Washington Irving
The somewhat parasitic weed that we find ourselves kissing beneath is also known to be toxic to people. The berries and leaves, however, provide high-protein food, pollen and nectar for many animals including butterflies and bees.
Perhaps someone should start a new kissing tradition beneath something else.
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