I guess there are many people throughout Ireland who have never actually seen a real sprig of mistletoe let alone kissed beneath one. There are also those who will wonder where mistletoe comes from and what kind of a plant it is. So, for all the budding Romeo's and Juliet's out there, here is how to find and recognise this rare plant form.
The place where mistletoe likes to hang out is amongst the branches of trees, particularly hardwood trees such apple, oak and lime. Mistletoe or to call it by its Latin name Viscum album is a partially parasitic plant that grows on these trees leeching off their available water and nutrients. It is sort of like a vampire plant, which preys on trees. The parasites roots enter the bark of the tree, often causing the host branches to deform and contort. Although stealing vital nutrients from its host, it is rare for mistletoe to cause the death of a tree; after all, a living tree is a host and a source of food.
Birds are the main propagators of mistletoe; they spread the plants seed from tree to tree and ensure continuation of the species. The most aptly named of these winged seeds-men is the mistle thrush, so-called because of its affinity for mistletoe berries. The mistle thrush swallows the berries, and disperses the seeds by excreting them whilst in flight. Some of this dung ends up hitting a branch (makes a change from landing on your freshly hung washing), where the still sticky seeds adhere like glue. On average, within six weeks, a new mistletoe plant will begin growing, taking up to five years to flower and fruit. The Blackcap is another bird that spreads the seed of mistletoe, but they take a more direct route. Blackcaps find the seed unpalatable so they eat the juicy outer after wiping the sticky seed onto a nearby branch. Seed dispersal by faddy eating if you like.
Luckily, for us, mistletoe is evergreen; this makes it easy to spot the plant growing amongst the leafless winter branches of most deciduous hardwood trees. Look out for what appears to be a large crows nest made up of oval, green, leathery leaves. If this growth also contains dense clusters of waxy white berries, you have been lucky enough to find a female fruiting mistletoe plant. This is the kissing kind. According to Christmas custom, any boy and girl who meet under a hanging cluster of berried mistletoe are obliged to kiss. The man should pluck one of the white berries for each kiss, when all these berries are gone, that's your lot.
Your kissing credit will have run out and you must then seek out other methods to gain those elusive kisses.
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