Mistletoe - a mysterious parasite

Garden Life
In ancient times, this plant was the wonder herb of the Celtic Druids. Today, it is not only a promising medicinal plant but also a popular Christmas accessory: Mistletoe. Its white fruits ensure that it spreads in a sophisticated manner.

Why does mistletoe grow on trees?

The word 'mistletoe' is related to the German word 'Mist', meaning "dung" - not etymologically, but biologically! If waxwings and mistle thrushes were not so keen on the white berries of this fascinating tree dweller, it would not spread so high overhead. If these greedy birds sharpen their beaks or leave their faeces behind on a branch, the mistletoe seeds can stick to the bark of their future host tree. As soon as the seeds start to sprout, a young mistletoe plant quietly appears. It is a semi-parasite and siphons off water and minerals which the tree draws from the ground. The plant, which - after a good year - emerges over the bare trees in winter as a visibly abundant green sphere suspended between heaven and earth, is considered by the Germanic people to be medicinal. Names like druid's herb, thunderbesen, devil's fuge, goat weed and witches broom have been attributed in the past to this all-round magic herb. Whilst our ancestors hung mistletoe branches on the wall as protection against evil spirits, this poisonous plant is today making a career as a medicinal plant on account of its healing effects. It is often used to reduce blood pressure and to treat complaints common in the elderly and even cancer.

From tradition to a trendy Christmas decoration

The English believe that kissing someone underneath the mistletoe at Christmas brings luck. This custom originated in the UK. The decorative branches of the evergreen shrub can be used as Advent or Christmas decoration from November. Simply gather a few mistletoe branches together and tie them with a wide red and white gingham bow. A crown made of cones, mistletoe and ivy beset with white and red berries also shows genuine decorative flair. The magical effect of the berries is shown to particularly good advantage if you split the branches into loose bunches and put them in simple glass vases.

GARDENA tip: Mistletoe prefers to grow on young branches in the top part of the tree crown. As a semi-parasite, it disturbs the growth of the host trees, which become delicate as result of being deprived of water and nutrients. Consequently, in the event of an infestation, young mistletoe should be removed early by cutting it out as deeply as possible. Then treat the area with ointment.