Mistletoe: the ancient plant of mystery

The Mistletoe is a plant of ancient superstition.
Many of the legends surrounding this plant come from the ancient Druids, who practised their religion in the older days of the British Isles—perhaps as far back as 200 or 300 BC.
In modern days, as part of our holiday celebrations, the Mistletoe usually allows the giving (or receiving) of a kiss.
This plant differs from most other plants in that it is a parasite. That means it must live on other living plants in order to survive.
There are about 100 species of Mistletoe around the world. As a group, they are parasitic on both evergreens and broad-leaved trees in both the New World and the Old.
Mistletoe grows on stems and branches of its host plant—it never lives on the ground. It doesn’t have any roots, either. Instead, it has what are called “haustoria” (from the Latin, to drink).
These penetrate into the host plant until they come in contact with the plant’s large transportation vessels. The haustoria grow into these, and use the water and minerals provided by the host plant for its own use.
Mistletoe leaves do contain some chlorophyll so they can manufacture some food, the same as other plants, by using sunlight.
Incidentally, the leaves remain green all winter, which added to the superstition surrounding this plant.
The fruit of the Mistletoe plant is always a fat, white berry. This berry is filled with a thick, sticky pulp, which birds like very much.
When a bird eats a berry, the gooey seed sticks to its beak. It promptly wipes it off on the branch of a tree. The seed stays there, ready to sprout and grow into its host—forming a new plant.
The Mistletoe plant can grow to quite a good size (as big as a shrub or even a small tree). Actually, they do very little damage to their host plants—just make them supply more water.
The common American Mistletoe is Phoradendron flavescens, but there are a great many others. Various species grow on maples, poplars, willows, oaks, cypress, junipers, cedars, and mesquite bushes, among others.
We, here in Northern Ontario, are too far north, and our climate too cold, for these parasitic plants.
In parts of the more southerly States, however, Mistletoe grows so profusely that the Indians used to use the berries for food.
In ancient days, the Mistletoe was held in great reverence. When the berries were prepared into a drink, this was a sure cure for sterility.
It also was used by the high mucky-mucks of the time to ward off poisons. It also could repel witches and cure toothaches.
They must have thought this was great stuff.
Nowadays, all we can get from the Mistletoe is a kiss from a pretty girl at Christmastime.

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