Eye On Nature Autumn Hunter Even the most independent women require romance to some degree. Some may like chocolate for Valentine’s Day, flowers for her birthday, his undivided attention for a memorable anniversary, or stolen kisses under the mistletoe for an entire holiday season. When it comes to mistletoe, stolen is an appropriate adjective since this species makes its living off the limbs of another. Mistletoe is a parasitic, evergreen plant that spends its entire life cycle growing in a host tree. A parasitic plant is one that does not benefit its host. Henderson State University reports, “Others consider mistletoe to be an epiphyte. Epiphytes grow on other plants with very little effect on the host plant and produce their own food via photosynthesis.” The mistletoe is green, so it’s photosynthetic, making its own nourishment. It does, however, use the host tree as an anchor, for water intake, and minerals. There is typically no harm done to the host except maybe in extended periods of drought. Even the scientific genus name of the plant, Phoradendron, translates from the Greek to mean thief of tree. Birds are most assuredly the primary means of transporting mistletoe. The seeds of this plant are encased in a gel like substance that sticks to the bird’s feet and beak. When the bird moves it spreads the seed with its feet, while cleaning its beak on a branch, or through its droppings. Mistletoe often has multiple plants growing in one tree or neighboring trees. Multiple plants can form balls or bushes weighing close to one hundred pounds suspended in the trees. Asian, European, and American herbalists believe in the potential natural healing properties and benefits of an immune system improved by mistletoe. Regulating blood pressure is one proclaimed benefit of drinking mistletoe tea. In a paper written by Professor Saupe working at the College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University in Minnesota, he noted that “mistletoe is used
Mistletoe is a parasitic, evergreen plant that spends its entire life cycle growing in a host tree. A parasitic plant is one does not benefit its host.
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Romance by Poison Parasite medicinally in Germany to treat a variety of conditions including hypertension and cancer. The plants contain a variety of poisonous proteins and lectins. Studies have not conclusively demonstrated the efficacy of mistletoe, and because of its high toxicity, mistletoe tea is not recommended for home remedy.” Another site, www.really-useful.y2u.co.uk , adds, “The extract from leaves and developing twigs has been used for treating respiratory ailments, circulatory problems, and epilepsy.” This plant became Oklahoma’s state flower when it was still an Indian territory. The brilliant red flowers appear in late summer. The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture website, www. arhomeandgarden.org , gives habitat description as “common in low lying ground with high humidity”. Mistletoe can grow on a variety of tree species. Multiple resources report mistletoe commonly found living in oak and apple trees. There are more than nine hundred species worldwide. More than twenty species are found in the southern United States. The female plants have red or white berries in winter depending on species. Because of the colorful berries and green leaves this plant has traditionally been used to decorate graves in winter. When “getting caught under the mistletoe” a berry is taken off the sprig. As tradition has it, the kissing stops when the berries are gone. The folklore and ancient traditions of hanging mistletoe in your doorway is a combination of several different cultures. Our Christmas decorations most likely started out as a pagan ritual of the Druid people who followed the winter solstice. In the Celtic language, mistletoe translates to “all heal.” The Scottish and Irish Society of the Black Hills tells of the healing power of this plant they believed took on the soul of the host tree. Mistletoe was thought to have the “power of healing diseases, making poisons harmless, giving fertility to humans and animals, protecting from witchcraft, banning evil spirits, bringing good luck and great blessings.” The Greeks gave boughs of mistletoe as a wedding present to newlyweds. Kissing under the mistletoe was introduced by the Vikings. The Norse legend tells of a goddess of love who had a son that was killed by an arrow made of mistletoe. Her tears turned into the berries and she brought him back to life with a kiss. In relation to Christianity, the website www.howstuffworks.com tells another story. “One French tradition holds that the reason mistletoe is poisonous is because it was growing on a tree that was used to make the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified.” Even though this poisonous plant should be kept away from children and animals, the majority of traditions behind the mistletoe are associated with
December 2011 issue of Eye On Independence