Jonathan's Mistletoe Diary

December 15, 2014

Back to the First Contact (with parasitic plants – though not mistletoe)

Filed under: Biodiversity,Mistletoe,Science,social history,Travel — Jonathan Briggs @ 8:59 am
Various species of Orobanche, the Broomrapes, which parasite the roots of their host plants. Ivy Broomrape is on the right.,

Various species of Orobanche, the Broomrapes, which parasite the roots of their host plants. Ivy Broomrape is on the right.

I went back in time, sort-of, last summer when I re-visited the scene of my First Contact – with parasitic plants, not aliens. But not mistletoe – this was a different parasite…

Randan Wood, near Dodford in Worcestershire, was where I first saw Ivy Broomrape, Orobanche hederae, a root parasite of Ivy.  The occasion was sometime in the mid 1970s when I would have been about 14. The day was a little unusual – a variant of my usual (but odd for a teenager) habit of walking out alone on Sunday afternoons to explore new footpaths and find new plants.  On this particular day I was meeting Fred Fincher, an elderly (to me, but probably only in his fifties) naturalist who lived in the wood. He wrote a column on natural history in the local paper and I had invited myself, as a fellow naturalist, to his house (not much more than a hut) in the woods.

Ivy Broomrape, Orobanche hederae, flower spikes

Ivy Broomrape, Orobanche hederae, flower spikes

It’s probably not the sort of thing teenagers do these days – visiting strange men who live in little huts in the woods, several miles walk from home, but that’s what I did. Fred made me a Ribena drink (with v cloudy water I recall – am not sure what the supply was) and we sat down to talk about plants. At the time I had a particular interest in fungi, and he showed me his library of mycological identification guides including the original Danish (I think) edition of Lange and Hora’s publication (which had become, in translation, one of the first Collins guide to fungi).

And we had a potter around outside his little house, looking at interesting plants. One of which, in the ivy at the foot of the house walls, was Orobanche hederae, whose chlorophyll-free flower spikes were conspicuous. My recollection is that Fred said he had sown seed there, amongst the ivy, and was really pleased it had grown.

That was my only direct encounter with Fred but it may have a lot to answer for. Just a few years later, when studying botany at Bristol, I chose to do my final year project on Orobanche hederae, which was surprisingly common around the Avon Gorge. I completely messed up the project, which was supposed to be about the haustorial structures connecting parasite to host roots. My microtome cutting technique failed to section any of these structures properly (sorry Dr Gledhill) so the project became a mish-mash of increasingly desperate other trivia on Orobanche. This, despite dooming me to a poor grade, left me fascinated by parasitic plants – and the rest, as they say, is history…

Rosedene, Greater Dodford Chartist Settlement, August 2014

Rosedene, Great Dodford Chartist Settlement, August 2014

I never met Fred again, and he died many years ago. His library survives, bequeathed to the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust and kept in their offices at Smite near Droitwich. And Randan Wood, which he owned (originally bought by his parents as a chicken farm if I recall correctly) is now a Worcestershire Wildlife Trust Reserve.

So what happened in summer 2014? My time travel? Well, we were holidaying in Dodford, amongst the Chartist cottages, staying in Rosedene, the one restored by the National Trust, and a walk to Randan seemed essential. I was a little nervous, not being sure what was left of Fred’s place. So I was pleasantly surprised, but also a little shocked, to find it still stood, derelict and unloved, but recognisable still with fitted bookcases still in situ. And there was lots of Ivy, everywhere.

At the house itself we couldn’t find any Orobanche, which seemed disappointing – but in the edge of the track, just a few yards away, we found mature flowering spikes. These were by now (this was August) setting seed, so I gathered some in an envelope (Orobanche has very fine powdery seeds) to scatter amongst some ivy roots at home.

 

Want to grow your own parasitic plant?

Why not try Mistletoe (so much more useful than Orobanche!)?

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December 10, 2014

The Mistletoe Rustlers

Filed under: Current Affairs,Mistletoe,social history — Jonathan Briggs @ 10:45 am

Mistletoe rustling is, even today, rife at this time of year – but it was once much more common. The huge popularity of mistletoe from the mid 19th to mid 20th centuries gave it a rather higher financial value than it has today. In 2012 I posted a newspaper cutting about one theft, in 1887, and since then I’ve come across many dozens of others, from the 1860s onwards.

Here are a few examples – which may make a modern mistletoe rustler think twice…

Here’s the brief story of Edwin Buttery, mistletoe rustler of Boughton (the one in Nottinghamshire). He took his mistletoe from nearby Thoresby Park, then the seat of Earl Manvers (and now a hotel). Mistletoe thefts from country parks were a common phenomenon as, outside of the SW midlands, these were (and are) sometimes the only places mistletoe grows in abundance, usually on the lime trees and spreading to others. But what happened to Edwin? Well, here he is, in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph on Dec 30th 1869 – granted rather expensive bail, to re-appear later…

Sheffield Daily Telegraph 30 Dec1869 Theft Worksop

And he’s back, on 11th January 1870, to be sentenced… to one month in prison with a hard labour!

Sheffield Independent 11 Jan1870 Theft again

Did this put a stop to it as the Chairman hoped?  Well, no-one was caught with mistletoe in Thoresby Park for a few years, but in 1875 George and Hannah Green were caught taking on the challenge. George missed the first hearing on 2nd January 1875 as he was down the pub (probably trying to avoid the Earl, who was on the bench), so this too was adjourned…

Derbyshire Times 2 Jan1875 Theft Greens edit1

On 14th January George and Hannah both turned up, but came armed with a defence counsel and tried to argue their way out of it on a technicality! This resulted in a fine of just £2 plus costs – a much better result than poor Edwin had just five years earlier.

Sheffield Daily Telegraph 14 Jan1875 Theft Worksop

There were many other similar cases in this period, and there’s no space here to add much more, but here’s one that I particularly like, this time from proper mistletoe country in Worcestershire and dated July 1902. Why July? Well the theft took place in December 1901 – but the defendant managed to slip away to America immediately afterwards (possibly worrying about a month’s hard labour if caught?). But on his return seven months later, possibly unaware of an arrest warrant, he is promptly arrested and tried! The bench (rather generously) dismissed the case, though not before the prosecutor asked whether he had fled to America ‘because of this horrible crime’. The value of mistletoe in this ‘horrible crime’ was 1 shilling (5 pence).

Worcestershire Chronicle Saturday 12 July 1902 theft

 

Worried about the risks to your freedom from mistletoe rustling?

Don’t fancy hard labour or running away to America?

Why rustle when you can grow your own?

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December 8, 2014

Mistletoe harvesting in the press

Filed under: Current Affairs,Mistletoe,Orchard,Science — Jonathan Briggs @ 10:38 am
First page of the recent Telegraph article

First page of the recent Telegraph article – to see the full article see images below.

There was an impressive feature in Saturday’s Telegraph on mistletoe harvesting, focussing on Guy and Jacqui Neath, who have a long-established business in Abberley (near Tenbury) supplying supermarkets with mistletoe. Their big customer this season is Marks & Spencer but they do supply many others. It’s not the first time they’ve featured in the press (they even appeared in comic strip form in Waitrose’s magazine a few years ago) but I thought this was a surprisingly good piece – I hope they’re pleased with it, I would be.

And, for a weekend supplement feature, it was reassuringly accurate, apart from a rubbish example of a mistletoe haustorium (host-parasite interface) and a rather odd explanation of how mistletoe establishes (cracks are not necessary, neither is an older tree), covering the madness (for mistletoe retailers) of the Christmas rush of orders and the benefit, to the orchard trees, of the harvest, effectively helping to save mistletoe infested trees.

Talking of which, the Mistletoe League Project, aiming to gather information on just this mistletoe management issue, is still undergoing a bit of a re-vamp, but I hope to have some news on that very soon. The old website at www.british.mistletoe.org.uk is due to disappear any time now, having been replaced by a wizzier new one.

Going back to that Telegraph feature it was, despite being huge, a little hard to spot, deep inside the Gardening supplement. The Telegraph readers I know hadn’t even seen it until I told them about it. So, if you want to read it I’ve pasted it in below. Note the interesting tips (with upturned wine glasses) on using mistletoe in table decorations. Click the images to open larger versions as a slide show.

And, from my sponsor…

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December 2, 2014

Mistletoe Auctions 2014

Filed under: Biodiversity,Current Affairs,Mistletoe,Orchard,Science — Jonathan Briggs @ 8:24 pm
The mistletoe lots laid out ready for the auction

The mistletoe lots laid out ready for the auction

The second of Tenbury Wells’ traditional three mistletoe auctions took place earlier today. At a new venue this year – Burford House Garden Store, just down the road from Tenbury itself.

A refreshing change from the uninspiring windswept sites that have hosted the auctions in recent years – so well done to auctioneer Nick Champion getting the site agreed and to Burford House for allowing it.

I just wish auction2014GV2Nick would signpost the sales as Mistletoe Sales – as mistletoe is what they’re best-known for – he seems to have a never-ending supply of ‘Holly Sales’ signs he always uses instead. Perhaps he got them cheap, or perhaps it’s simply that Holly is a shorter word and easier to put on a road sign.

Auction underway - the scrum around the lines of mistletoe lots

Auction underway – the scrum around the lines of mistletoe lots

The downside, for Tenbury itself, is that the venue (like other recent ones) offers little chance of extra footfall in town. Despite the auction being crowded Tenbury town was eerily quiet when I dropped in at lunchtime. In the ‘old days’ (less than 10 years ago) when the auctions were in town at the old cattle market site the town would be heaving with people on mistletoe sales days. All the more need for the Mistletoe Festival to attract people into town – and the big day for that this year is next Saturday (6th Dec). For details click here.

But back to the sales. There was a convincingly high number of mistletoe lots this week, which always seems good, and more, I’m told, than last week. All of it very well berried. Some variable quality in presentation, as always, but that’s what makes the auctions so interesting – the variation in the lots and the appearance/condition of mistletoe involved, that you can study (if that’s your thing – it works for me!) as you wander up and down the rows of lots prior to the sales beginning.

As usual there were lots of photographers, and the location is rather more photogenic than previous years – with the lots laid out on the orchard-style lawn on the north side of Burford House. Though with low sun in the south there were no chances for long shots with the house in frame.

A buyer wheeling his wins to his van...

A buyer wheeling his wins to his van…

Another buyer wheeling his wins to his van...

Another buyer wheeling his wins to his van…

Who buys all this mistletoe? Where does it all go?

I spotted several London buyers and also regulars like Nick from mail-order agents intermistletoe in Suffolk, plus Julian Wotsisname from Pershore, and that chap from the Shropshire Wildlife Trust buying for their shop, and, er, lots of completely anonymous people.

To get some feel for who they were, and how far they came, I did a quick trip round the car-park looking for branded vehicles. Not many of them – though a lot of unmarked vans, 4x4s and trailers. Here are some of the branded ones:

That small sample suggests they still come from all over the country to buy Tenbury mistletoe – so that tradition seems fairly secure.

Interested in prices? Prices seemed fairly high today, though that’s only going by what you can hear of the bidding, and it’s difficult to relate that to what’s on the ground sometimes. If you want full stats on prices etc you can download auction reports from Nick Champion’s website here. Last week’s report is here: http://www.nickchampion.co.uk/site/assets/files/1163/nick_champion_holly_sale_report_-_25_nov_14.docx

EMShopWant to know more about mistletoe? Visit the Mistletoe Directory page for links to mistletoe information, and to sites where you can buy grow-kits, books and cards…

November 25, 2014

Mistletoe Drones – silly and serious

Filed under: Biodiversity,Current Affairs,Food and Drink,Mistletoe,Religion,Science — Jonathan Briggs @ 12:51 pm

Today sees the first of the 2014 Tenbury Mistletoe Auctions – and I’m unable to be there. So instead here’s a story (two stories actually – a serious one and a silly one) about mistletoe drones.

The Mistletoe Diary has covered mistletoe drone stories before, notably last year when some ‘interactive artists’ deployed a mistletoe-bearing drone in Union Square, San Francisco.

This year reports of similar initiatives are coming in from all over the place. This is, actually, not all that surprising: ‘Toy’ drones have become really popular, and what better way is there to hang mistletoe over people? No longer do you have to wait until you stand under the mistletoe – now you can make the mistletoe come to you – or to your friend.

One UK example is in TGI Fridays where mistletoe drones will be flying around diner’s heads this Christmas, following a trial at their Manchester store. Their promotional video from Manchester is below.

TGI Fridays say that a survey (whose? when?) has found 47% of Brits have never kissed under mistletoe – and this is their attempt to correct this.

Sadly, of course, they are doomed to fail. Why? Because that’s not mistletoe hanging from the drone – it’s plastic imitation mistletoe, and that’s hardly an inspiration to follow the traditions of the ancients! If you want to revive a tradition then surely you should start by following it! But perhaps this is TGI Fridays style – a little bit plasticky?

Drone used for mistletoe surveying in the Cayman Islands

Drone used for mistletoe surveying in the Cayman Islands

Now, talking of real mistletoe, here’s a story of a proper mistletoe drone – this time a serious story using drones to survey mistletoe. The mistletoe concerned is Dendropemon caymanensis, a rare mistletoe endemic to Little Cayman, one of the Cayman Islands.

Last summer the local Department of Environment teamed up with staff from Kew Gardens in the UK to spot and map out the species by flying a camera drone over the forests it grows in – this being a much quicker way than going in on foot and having to look at every tree. Full details of the project (which completed this summer) are here.  Note (left) the rather more sophisticated drone they are using!

A news report, detailing the, er, limited success of the project is in the video below (if the video doesn’t play click here to view it in a new window)

This sort of approach could also be used in here in the UK – as mistletoe is, as I’ve pointed out in Mistletoe Diary before, one of the few plants that can be mapped from aerial photography. But we have little need of such an approach, as all our mistletoe is fairly obvious from the ground.

Nevertheless the concept is appealing – and I’ve been thinking about using a camera-carrying drone to examine how mistletoe grows in higher trees (without having to climb them) and also to simply take pictures of mistletoe from above – which gives a whole new perspective. But that’s all still on the drawing board for now… (but can you guess what’s on my Christmas list?).

 

EMShopWant to know more about mistletoe? Visit the Mistletoe Directory page for links to mistletoe information, and to sites where you can buy grow-kits, books and cards…

 

November 20, 2014

Mistletoe, Good Luck and War

Filed under: Current Affairs,Food and Drink,Mistletoe,Science,Travel — Jonathan Briggs @ 3:42 pm
A typical mistletoe-themed French New Year card

A typical mistletoe-themed French New Year card

Earlier this month I contributed to a local WW1 exhibition with some documents and correspondence relating to my Great Uncle Clifford, who died in July 1918 as a Prisoner of War. He shipped to France on 2nd April and was immediately sent to serve in the trenches but on 27th May, after just 8 weeks at war, he was captured. Several official ‘I am a Prisoner of War’ postcards were sent home and a longer letter written (but never sent). He died from ‘cardiac weakness’ in July – but neither the army nor his family got this news until January 1919. My grandmother, his sister, had been hopefully meeting the troop trains arriving home ever since the Armistice in November 1918 – but her brother had been dead for months. His last letter was in his effects.

What has this tragic story got to do with mistletoe? Nothing directly. But it has reminded me of the use of mistletoe as a good luck motif – particularly in that war. Mistletoe was once strongly associated with luck – and many of the older traditions and legends can be interpreted as suggesting it has some sort of protective role. The popular kissing custom has, today, rather eclipsed many of these older traditions – but 100 years ago more customs may have still thrived. The location of the fighting in northern France and Belgium may have helped as French-speaking areas, even today, still hold on to the custom of mistletoe for luck – a ‘Porte Bonheur’.

Another mistletoe-themed French New Years card

Another mistletoe-themed French New Years card

This tradition was, by the time of WW1, often manifested in France through pictorial postcards, often celebrating the New Year – and also with art nouveau style objets d’art (see some here) often embellished with the phrase ‘au gui l’an neuf’ – mistletoe for the New Year, effectively wishing the recipient a lucky and successful New Year.

During the war a variant of these cards, in the form of the embroidered so-called ‘silk’ postcards, were often used. Such silk cards were a popular item to post home from the front and many with mistletoe imagery, linked to some good luck message, survive.

Postcard home, locally made in France, depicting mistletoe and with a Good Luck message

Postcard home, locally made in France, depicting mistletoe and with a Good Luck message

Here’s one sold on ebay this week. Now, whether the mistletoe imagery was chosen by the British tommy for good luck – or whether the local producers (these were all made in France) simply made them to reflect their own local custom of mistletoe and luck is not known. It could be either, or both.

But I like to think it was both – and that the man in the trenches didn’t just associate mistletoe with kissing – instead seeing it as a luck symbol too.

I’ll finish with this picture of three WW1 British soldiers just about to celebrate Christmas. They are all wearing mistletoe in their hats – and it is perfectly placed for kissing. But, as there was, one assumes, no-one appealing enough to want to kiss, perhaps that mistletoe was actually being worn for luck.

Unconvinced? Just look (like they are) at the chicken – which possesses no mistletoe and is, I confidently predict, now completely out of luck…

Three soldiers and a chicken...

Three soldiers and a chicken…

 

Want to know more about mistletoe? Visit the Mistletoe Directory page for links to mistletoe information, and to sites where you can buy grow-kits, books and cards…

November 11, 2014

Mistletoe website, auction and survey news

Filed under: Biodiversity,Current Affairs,Mistletoe,Orchard,Science,Travel — Jonathan Briggs @ 9:00 pm

Running late on so many mistletoe matters this season. And hardly had time for blog updates. So here are a few bits and pieces of info, just to get things moving and answer some questions:

Mistletoe crop 2014 – looking good, lots of berries. And, for all those journos who insist on writing silly stories about a berry glut (or shortage, if doom’n’gloom is your forte) being due to a hot/cold, dry/wet, winter/spring/summer/autumn (take a random combo – most journalists do), there is NO definitive cause. So please don’t try to find/invent one. The berries are formed after pollination in early spring, from flower buds formed slowly over the previous summer. Which makes the flower bud formation to mature berry process nearly two years long – and there’s no point in looking to credit one particular season. And no, they won’t all be eaten by the birds before Christmas either (they never are – mistletoe’s not like holly or other conventional berried plants).

Tenbury Mistletoe Auctions 2014 – dates are Tuesdays 25th November, 2nd December and 9th December. And there’s a change of venue. This season they will be at Burford House Garden Store, Burford, Tenbury Wells, WR15 8HQ. Details, as usual, from Nick Champion. Buying or selling? Check out Nick’s guides here – Buying, Selling

The mistletoe.org.uk websites – several are being re-vamped this season (and it’s taking up a lot of my time!) to make sure all are ‘responsive’ site designs, working on tablets and phones as well as on desktop and laptop computers. The latest to get the treatment is the home index page at mistletoe.org.uk. Check out the new design here.

Mistletoe Surveys – the Mistletoe League project – a group of public participation surveys looking into how mistletoe is managed on fruit trees and whether there are fruit varieties more susceptible or resistant to mistletoe – is being re-launched this month. This is also taking up a lot of my time – but there should be some progress to report soon….

Commercial break – the English Mistletoe Shop have just launched a new Grow-Kit website, dedicated to just the mistletoe grow-kits. Aimed particularly at gardeners, though suitable for all of course. Visit it here – it is, of course, a fully ‘responsive’ design.

October 25, 2014

New season mistletoe – loaded with berries

Filed under: Biodiversity,Current Affairs,Mistletoe,Orchard,Science — Jonathan Briggs @ 7:52 am
Mistletoe, late October 2014. Loadsa berries, and white already

Mistletoe, late October 2014. Loadsa berries, and white already

New season mistletoe looking good. Lots of berries – again… We seem to have several good berry seasons in a row. This year they’re even turning white early – with some almost fully white (though not yet translucent) already. That fits with other fruiting trends this season – many other plants’ fruits and berries ripened early too.

The mistletoe berries aren’t all green though – plants still in shade still have solidly green berries. Our biggest garden mistletoe is one of those, and is steadfastly refusing to turn white – yet. But the shade is rapidly vanishing, as host tree leaf-fall has accelerated in the last week and is exposing more and more mistletoe.

The deciduous mistletoe Loranthus europeaus, native to central southern Europe. Not obvious in winter!

The deciduous mistletoe Loranthus europeaus, native to central southern Europe. Not obvious in winter!

That sudden ‘exposure’ at this time of year is one of our mistletoe’s distinctive features – contributing to its role in legend and tradition as a symbol of ongoing life. The tree may look ‘dead’ as it loses more and more leaves, but the evergreen mistletoe, newly exposed, represents ongoing green life.

Not all mistletoes are like this of course – I was reminded in a discussion yesterday about the European Oak Mistletoe, Loranthus europaeus, being deciduous, and therefore NOT obvious in winter. Here’s a picture I took a few years ago of the only known specimen in Britain (in Kew Gardens). Can you spot which is mistletoe and which is tree? A leafless mistletoe just becomes another clump of branches. So it’s a good thing ours is evergreen – otherwise we might not have all those old traditions

Marketing promo’s taking advantage of those traditions are, as usual, coming in thick and fast now. Here’s one (my ‘mistletoe’ book of the week) for this week, brought to my attention in a newspaper (The Torygraph) promotion:

‘Mistletoe’ Book of the Week for w/e 25th October is…
…the paperback edition of Kate Mosse’s The Mistletoe Bride and  Other Haunting Tales . I’ve chosen it not because it’s particularly mistletoey (it isn’t, apart from the title story, and that’s not, really, very mistleotoey).

Its place here is really because the cover design earns the first mistletoe graphic thumbs-down of the season.

Whatever is that green stuff on that branch? If it’s supposed to be mistletoe the artist (and the art commissioning editor at Orion) have clearly never seen, or even bothered to look up, mistletoe. It looks like some sort of creeper, a day or so after herbicide treatment.

It’s so unlike mistletoe it’s a strong contender for the Naff Depiction of Mistletoe Award for 2014. But nominations are still open, so worse may yet appear.

October 6, 2014

Oh no, it’s mistletoe season again!

Filed under: Biodiversity,Current Affairs,Mistletoe,Religion,Science — Jonathan Briggs @ 11:47 pm

Mistletoe season is looming ever larger. Again. And despite it happening this time every year, I do feel it’s taken me a little by surprise this season. Lots still to do and to plan. Including reporting on current mistletoe matters here.

This season I’m planning to;

Mistletoe Seedlings - the results from some of my in vitro experiments earlier this year - more about these soon

Mistletoe Seedlings – the results from some of my in vitro experiments earlier this year – more about these soon

  • re-launch the Mistletoe League project, making a clearer distinction between the management survey and the fruit varietal preference survey (if you don’t know what that’s all about, visit british.mistletoe.org.uk). More on this in November
  • review the use of drones in mistletoe survey work (yes, really)
  • discuss seedling survival – how long can a mistletoe seedling survive without connecting to the host?
  • ponder on seed, and seedling survival without light – to stress that you must never keep your mistletoe seeds in the dark (‘cos if you do, they’ll die)
  • re-visit a close encounter with parasitic plants when I was 14 – and realise, with hindsight, that the event has a lot to answer for
  • list, and discuss, mistletoe and mistletoe-related events this season
  • announce some mistletoe book news (I hope…)
  • think on mistletoe imagery at Christmas – and current trends in mistletoe designs

And lots of other mistletoey stuff, as it arises. All of it, obviously, presented in the best possible taste (I’ll keep the references to the ‘sperm of the gods’ to a minimum).

That’s all for now – I’ll be back blogging properly from next week.

EMShopThe English Mistletoe Shop is open again this season, though this year we are concentrating more on grow-kits rather than mistletoe itself. There’ll be more news on that soon.

May 12, 2014

Mistletoe problems in western orchards – getting worse?

Filed under: Biodiversity,Mistletoe,Orchard,Science,Uncategorized — Jonathan Briggs @ 11:23 am
A snapshot graphic from one of the Mistletoe League Surveys.

A snapshot graphic from one of the Mistletoe League Surveys.

The issue of ‘too much mistletoe’ has been on my mind again recently – helped along by email correspondence from Gillian Bulmer, who owns orchards at Little Breinton, Hereford and by a recent letter to the Hereford Times by Chris Fairs, formerly of Bulmers cider and an expert on orchard tree management.

The issue is one I’ve raised many times before – though it is often difficult to get the concept across, especially to the media, who are usually far more interested in stories about mistletoe rarity, not abundance. Even the conservation lobby seem to find it hard to grasp sometimes. Very odd.

Yes, mistletoe is rare across much of the country, and yes, mistletoe is good for biodiversity, supporting several other species. And yes it is a traditional plant to grow, with much cultural significance. So, for all those reasons, it is a GOOD plant to have, and even encourage, in areas where naturally rare.

BUT here in its core climatic area (Herefs, Worcs, Gloucs (Severn Vale), Gwent (borders) and Somerset) it grows in huge abundance. And where it is in neglected apple orchards (a favourite habitat and host) it will run amok, taking over each branch of the tree.

General mistletoe management in many older orchards has now ceased, or is much reduced, with often only some fairly random harvesting for Christmas. That harvesting tends to only take some of the berried female plants anyway, so it usually leaves well over half (the male plants and remaining female plants) the mistletoe on the trees intact. Harvesting is not management.

Plus there is evidence (observations only usually, few hard data) that mistletoe is spreading faster than it used to – mostly noticed in areas where it is usually scarce, but also possibly in its core climatic area too (more difficult to measure here though).

Why is too much mistletoe a problem – surely it’s only a hemi-parasite? Well yes, it is fairly harmless in small quantities. But every branch it grows on is tricked, by the mistletoe, into supporting it, the mistletoe, rather than the tree. And so if it is on every branch that tree is in trouble (as is the mistletoe of course!). The problem is compounded by mistletoe’s greed for water – it will transpire water from the tree’s roots freely, all year round, meaning the tree’s leaves are thirstier than they should be in summer and very stressed in prolonged dry weather (see Mistletoe Diary entry here for more info). And then there’s wind-blow of course (eg see the Mistletoe Diary entry below this one for examples). So some mistletoe good, loadsa mistletoe bad.

(For some general background on mistletoe rarity, management, distribution issues etc have a look at the various Mistletoe Matters Information Sheets here or here).

This is, obviously, a problem that needs to be addressed, and must be a key part of any orchard management strategy in this area. But it is difficult to get ‘authorities’ to take it seriously – largely, in my view, because there are no hard data on the problem. No-one has attempted to quantify it, and without statistics the problem doesn’t exist in any formal strategies.

One attempt to rectify this is the Mistletoe League Project I set up a couple of years ago. This aimed to gather management information over several seasons, anticipating slow take-up. And indeed participation has, so far, been limited. I obviously need to do rather more promotion of it next winter, and perhaps simplify the data entry forms to make it more attractive.

But I thought it would be worth posting some graphics of preliminary results up here on the Mistletoe Diary, for the record, and to help inform discussions.

The following is just a brief slide show of some results. Do bear in mind that some of these stats arise from samples of less than 50 respondents (some less than 10), and are geographically spread, so this is not, yet, an analysis of the situation of most orchards in mistletoe’s core area, just a brief snapshot of very incomplete data, and not scientifically valid:

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(NB the two differing ‘is there more than there used to be?’ charts are from two different sections of the project – one from the fruit trees in orchards section and one from the fruit trees in gardens section)

There are some new initiatives in the pipeline that might help with mistletoe management, not least the developing  (but not yet fully formed) Three Counties Orchard Project which is promoting conservation and management of orchards across Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire. Mistletoe management must be a factor in that.

But even projects like that are short-lived, as their funding only lasts a few years. The mistletoe and orchard problem is here to stay, and needs long-term strategy.

 

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