Grumpy Gardener – Mistletoe, no French Kissing

The Grumpy Gardener – January
Hints & Tips With Mike Alexander
In his regular column for French News Online, professional gardener Mike Alexander, tells how to get seasonal Mistletoe to take on a host tree but cautions that unlike some places, Mistletoe and kissing are not traditionally combined in France.

 After covering holly last year I feel it would only be fair to discuss that other seasonal requisite, mistletoe, which really has its big moment on New Year’s Eve. 

Mistletoe growing in France (Credit Mike Alexander)

Mistletoe is widely seen in France where it grows on up to two hundred different varieties of tree most notably apple and poplar. There are several hundred different species which grow as far afield as Australia and South Africa but the Europea Viscum album is the one which we associate with here.

Mistletoe is a hemi-parasite that can photosynthesize for itself, but draws water and nutrients from the host plant. In large quantities mistletoe can damage or even kill its host but generally it tends to remain limited enough not to do so.

It is also poisonous and if ingested by humans may cause diarrhoea, stomach pain and a low pulse. With all these handicaps how is it that this particular plant plays such a large part in our Christmas and New Year celebrations?

The plant features in ancient Greek mythology and was revered by Druids who used it as an aphrodisiac. Our modern habit (that is those of an Anglo-Saxon heritage) of kissing beneath a sprig, first really appears as late as the 18th century and we probably acquired this from the Scandinavians to whom it symbolised peace and love.


Close up of berries — needed if you plan to grow some (Credit Mike Alexander)

It is now mainly the English speaking countries that adhere to this tradition and the French regard it as slightly bizarre behaviour. Having been to an office party where a drunken old letch spent the evening trying to kiss the prettiest secretaries I tend to understand French feelings and I hope most of those secretaries have forgiven me by now.

Studies have shown that while small this plant is a keystone species in terms of biodiversity. It is entirely reliant on birds for seed dispersal but provides much needed sustenance for those birds during the lean winter season.

It also provides a nesting habitat and supports a variety of insects and fungi. Kew, Chelsea Physic and Lambeth Palace Gardens are all experimenting with introduction programmes. There are also some positive results emerging from tests involving  the use of mistletoe in cancer treatment , although these are still in an early stage.

In the United Kingdom ancient apple orchards were the main mistletoe stronghold with the plant being sold as a by-product in November and December, often at the Tenbury auctions which today have become a tourist attraction. The loss of ancient apple orchards to modern agricultural practice has seen a slight decline in mistletoe although it is still by no means threatened and some people are now beginning to start commercial production.

You can grow some in your own garden with little difficulty if you have a suitable tree. Berries should be picked while white and sticky in January or February. Simply rub these berries on the side or underside of branches with a diameter of between 8 and 15 cms and then label the branch. Wipe on more branches than you need to as the seed does not take easily. When it does take, the first minute leaves will be seen the following spring and grow slowly after that.

Do not expect berries for about four years and the plants are dioecious so only the female plants will carry fruit.

Previously – click an image below
To read February's gardening tips article - click this image
Is a world without bees possible? Read about this crisis that will affect us all - click here
Prune for Results
A World Without Bees?
What you should have done in January!
Prune your roses - click here
Fruit Tree Pruning
Wars of the Roses
Grumpy Gardener April - It's War Out There. Click to view
Click to read this article
Prune When Finished
Herald of Spring…
click to read Grumpy's july  tips
You’ve got to be quick!
Un-thirsty Lavender
To read this August 2011 article - click here
To read this August 2011 article - click here
Grasp the Nettle
Star Jasmine – Madrid
To read this August 2011 article - click here
To read this August 2011 article - click here
Jihad – on Bunnies Ears
Autumn Arrives
Designer chic or neccessity? - click here for full story
To read this article - click here
Designer Chic?
Gravity – not to be ignored!
If winter comes, can Spring be far behind? Grumpy contemplates the winter garden
If winter comes, can Spring be far behind? Grumpy contemplates the winter garden
If Winter Comes….
Hottest chilli in the world
Dogs and Daffodils... full story - click this image
The iris and Madame la Guillotine... full story - click this image
Dog Days…
Fleur de Lys
Hedge You Bets - how do YOU like your hedges... full story - click this image
To read a previous article
– click an image –
Hedge Your Bets

Grumpy Gardener

Our Grumpy Gardener has been gardening professionally in France for more years than he cares to remember and before that in Africa and the UK. Today he happily shares his expertise with French News Online readers. Your gardening questions are welcome and while they may not be individually answered, they may form the basis of future monthly columns.

Writer: Mike Alexander

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