Hillsborough Extension Garden Blog

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Botanical Symbols of the Season – Part IV December 21, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hillsborough County Residential Horticulture @ 6:00 am
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Mistletoe (Phoradendron serotinum)

Most people associate mistletoe with kissing during the holiday season for anyone caught standing under a sprig of this plant (often strategically placed in a doorway). Before Christianity, however, the Druids believed mistletoe could cure diseases, increase the fertility of humans and animals, offer protection from witches and bring good luck. They believed it was a holy plant because it rooted closer to heaven than any other plant. If two Druid enemies met beneath a tree on which mistletoe was growing, they would lay down their weapons, exchange greetings, and observe a truce until the following day!

These traditions and beliefs of peace and harmony were adapted by the English and French, giving us the holiday custom of kissing under mistletoe bunches. While hanging mistletoe is a Christmas tradition in the United States, it is more commonly associated with New Year’s Eve in Europe.

In the home landscape, mistletoe is a parasite and not planted voluntarily. Mistletoe’s distinctive green leaves, stems, and white berries–each with a sticky seed inside–are easily recognizable. As a small seedling, it roots into the bark and wood of a tree and makes a connection with the growing ring of the host. Although mistletoe makes its own food, it steals water and nutrients from its host tree. Mistletoe will parasitize many hosts in Florida, in particular elms and laurel oaks. A botanical anomaly, it is the only complete plant considered a true parasite since it often kills the hardwood tree it infests.

With Christmas and other celebrations right around the corner, take some time to ponder the history, the lore and the symbolism of the plants around you. It just might help you be less stressed about the season and instead be more captivated by the wonder of it all!

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