The leaves in the forest, for the most part, all have fallen, yet every now and then there is a tree that has an odd, large clump of leaves. At first glance it appears to be a squirrel’s nest. Upon further investigation, small, leathery, emerald green leaves are revealed. This is the stuff of many myths. American Mistletoe, Phoradendron leucarpum.
Druids of northern Europe hung sprigs of Mistletoe over their doorways to protect the occupants against lightning, thunder and evil spirits. The Druids also looked upon Mistletoe as a symbol of peace, something we might want to consider. The custom of kissing under the Mistletoe is also an ancient one, which began more than 2000 years ago. Some believed that a kiss under the mistletoe meant the lovers would marry. Others believed that if a young woman was not kissed under the Mistletoe, she would not marry in the following year.
In our modern times, researchers have discovered compounds in Mistletoe that may have value in helping with smooth muscle problems, hypertension, and cancer.
The Mistletoe plant is a hemi-parasite, meaning it that though it does rely on its host tree for water and minerals, it produces its own food through photosynthesis. Mistletoe grows on many different hardwood trees. Birds such as cedar waxwing, bluebird, and evening grosbeak eat the pearly white berries, and distribute the seeds, which are covered with a gluey substance. The seeds end up sticking to tree branches. Once stuck to the branch, roots will penetrate the tree’s bark and the hi-jacking of water and nutrients begins.
There are three species of butterfly that depend entirely upon the Mistletoe plant for their survival. The Great Purple Hairstreak feeds on the American Mistletoe that I have presented in this blog. The caterpillars of two other butterflies: the Thicket Hairstreak, and the Johnson’s Hairstreak feed on Dwarf Mistletoe, Arceuthobium.
Good luck if you find some Mistletoe and place it over a doorway, hoping for a kiss!
A word of caution though, the plant should be kept out of reach of children and pets, since it is poisonous.