What is mistletoe?

Question: 

What is mistletoe?

Answer: 

Mistletoe is a semi-parasitic plant with leathery, evergreen leaves and small, white berries. Mistletoe plants manufacture their own food, but obtain water and mineral nutrients from a host plant. Host plants include numerous deciduous and evergreen trees. Mistletoe obtains water and nutrients via root-like haustoria that grow into the host plant’s water conducting tissue. Mistletoe berries are readily eaten by birds. The birds digest the pulp of the berries and excrete the seeds. The sticky seeds stick to the branches of trees. At germination, the mistletoe seedling develops haustoria that grow through the bark of the tree and into its water conducting tissue.  

American mistletoe (Phoradendron leucarpum) can be found growing in deciduous trees from New Jersey and southern Indiana southward to Florida and Texas. (Phoradendron is derived from Greek and literally means “thief of the tree.”) It is the state floral emblem of Oklahoma. Mistletoe sold during the holiday season is gathered in the wild. Most mistletoe is harvested in Oklahoma and Texas.  

Traditions involving mistletoe date back to ancient times. Druids believed that mistletoe could bestow health and good luck. Welsh farmers associated mistletoe with fertility. A good mistletoe crop foretold a good crop the following season. Mistletoe was also thought to influence human fertility and was prescribed to individuals who had problems bearing children. It has been used in medicine, as treatment for pleurisy, gout, epilepsy, rabies and poisoning. In addition, mistletoe played a role in a superstition concerning marriage. It was believed that kissing under the mistletoe increased the possibility of marriage in the upcoming year. Today, kissing under the mistletoe is a sign of goodwill, friendship or love.  

Mistletoe should be kept out of the reach of small children and family pets, as the berries are poisonous. 

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