Plantwise Blog

Mistletoe000_0043

I was thinking “what shall I write about in my Christmas blog?” I then remembered a news item I heard in one of the BBC radio stations about the mistletoe being under threat of disappearing from our landscape. I searched for the news item in their news webpage and found it still there. The article reports that conservationists warned that the future of the traditional English mistletoe is under threat. Read on to find out why the mistletoe is threatened.

Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that favours apple trees, but it can also be found on lime, poplar and hawthorn trees across the UK. Mistletoe thrives in established apple orchards. However, these habitats have seen a huge decline over the past 60 years, which means our lovely mistletoe, which is so traditional at Christmas time is also disappearing. At least 60% of old orchards in Somerset, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire have disappeared since the 1950s. The decline is even greater in Devon and Kent, where there has been a 90% decline.

The National Trust is urging people to buy home-grown mistletoe in the run-up to Christmas in a bid to ensure those who wish to can go on kissing under it. Trust ecologist Peter Brash said it would be a “sad loss” if mistletoe disappeared from its traditional areas. “It would be a sad loss if mistletoe disappeared altogether from its heartland. We could end up relying on imports of mistletoe from mainland Europe for those festive kisses” Mr Brash said.

Mistletoe expert Jonathan Briggs said the plant benefited from a managed environment. “Unchecked, it will swamp its host tree and ultimately cause it to die,” he said. “Regular, managed cropping will ensure that the host tree remains productive while ensuring that a healthy population of mistletoe will persist.”

Agriculture minister Jim Paice said there was more to mistletoe than its “traditional amorous role”. “Buying mistletoe helps traditional British cider apple orchards thrive by removing mistletoe from apple trees,” he said. “By buying mistletoe at Christmas, you’re continuing a tradition that helps apple trees to flourish.”

In conclusion, although the mistletoe is under threat we should continue buying the little branches at Christmas to help it to survive. If we keep the tradition we’ll be helping the apple orchards to thrive and save the mistletoe habitat too. I thought I was being good buying the fake branch seen in the above picture, but now I know to buy real mistletoe always! I have to admit though, the fake one looks very convincing!

I also searched the Cabdirect database, of course, and found 2807 records on mistletoe, including some on its medicinal properties, such as mistletoe lectin-l reducing the proliferation of malignant melanoma cells.

Link to BBC news item on mistletoe and a video clip of a farmer explaining what to look for in a mistletoe and how to harvest it.

Link to a webpage dedicated to the Mistletoe with links to the Mistletoe shop and the perfect mistletoe gift.

Link (for subscribers to Cabdirect) to abstract of article on mistletoe lectin-l reducing the proliferation of malignant melanoma cells.

Freudlsperger, C.; Dahl, A.; Hoffmann, J.; Reinert, S; Schumacher, U. (2010) Mistletoe lectin-I augments antiproliferative effects of the PPARγ agonist rosiglitazone on human malignant melanoma cells. Phytotherapy Research, Vol. 24 No. 9 pp. 1354-1358.

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