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Perfect Excuse for a Kiss: Under the Mistletoe

The presence of Mistletoe hung as part of holiday decorations provides the perfect excuse for kissing when partners find their way conveniently or deliberately underneath mistletoe’s leaves and white berries.  While it seems that kissing under mistletoe happens more often during holiday movies, mistletoe has a long history which doesn’t include kissing.   Its history stems back to beliefs of Celtic Druids, the Scandinavians, the English and French, and finally to the United States.

Pruning a Parasite
Tree with no leaves and balls of green mistletoe

Mistletoe is a parasite that takes its nutrients from the trees where it is found.

American or Oak Mistletoe (Phoradendron serotinum) is a parasite which takes its water and nutrients from the tree limb(s) it is attached to.  Overtime it can weaken the tree or destroy it.  This weakness can be made worse by a variety of stresses that trees experience.  It is best to remove mistletoe to preserve the health and life of the tree.  Limbs with mistletoe should be removed six inches beyond where it is found on the limb.  Unfortunately, in infested trees, removing limbs beyond the mistletoe can lead to a tree with a changed structure.  Despite the changed structure, trees may improve without the stresses created by mistletoe.

As with any pruning, you should use appropriate pruning tools which could include a pole pruner or saw.  You should wear proper safety equipment to protect your head and eyes, and wash your hands when done.  Because the fruit is poisonous, you should not place it somewhere for easy access by children, grandchildren or even pets to accidentally consume the berries.  It could be possible that the hanging of mistletoe could be to keep it out of little hands or paws.  You should contact your residential horticulture agent for possible chemical controls if needed.

A Bit of History and Harvesting

While mistletoe has been used as inspiration for kissing for centuries during Christmas in the United States and for New Year’s Eve in England, the practice of kissing under mistletoe went as far back as ancient Greece, The Romans and the Celtic Druids did not use mistletoe to kiss under.  The Celtic Druids felt that the mistletoe was holy because it was already rooted high in a tree and used it for various purposes.  The Romans resolved differences with enemies under mistletoe. And, the Scandinavians saw mistletoe as a sign of peace.  When young ladies were courted in Victorian England, a young lady refusing a kiss may not receive a proposal for marriage, perhaps leading to her being an old maid.

Once you harvest your mistletoe, you should plan to refrigerate it until you are ready to create your decorations.  You can use thin florist wire to wrap bundles of mistletoe and decorate as desired with ribbon hanging it in a place that is easy to mist to keep it fresh.  Do not located your mistletoe decoration it in a place that will cause it to dry out quickly or cause a fire because of a heat source.

The Great Purple Hairstreak Butterfly
caterpillar on stem

Mistletoe is a larval host for the Great Purple Hairstreak Butterfly. Photo Credit: Jerry F. Butler, University of Florida.

Gray butterfly with orange

The adult of the great purple hairstreak butterfly is brightly colored with wings open. Photo credit: Jerry F. Butler, University of Florida.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The great purple hairstreak butterfly (Atlides halesus (Cramer)) makes good use of the parasitic mistletoe.  It uses the mistletoe plant as a larval food source for the larva which is green and may have short orange hairs.   The purple hairstreak is a lustrous blue with black edges.  But when wings are folded that blue is concealed by a grey underside with orange on the body.

For more information on kissing under the mistletoe, harvesting and tying, visit http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/care/weeds-and-invasive-plants/mistletoe.html; for information on the great purple hairstreak butterfly and its association with mistletoe for larval food read https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in267; and, for information used in this article on this history of kissing under the mistletoe visit https://www.livescience.com/32901-why-we-kiss-under-mistletoe.html.