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Mistletoe in Britain – a review paper
Almost the end of January, so it will soon be mistletoe flowering season and, of course, mistletoe seed germination season. That’s one of the many odd things about mistletoe – it flowers and germinates in late winter, the season when most plants are merely beginning to plan such energetic activities.
If you’re interested in reading more about this and other odd mistletoe stuff there’s a new review, published just a month ago, in the journal British & Irish Botany. It is, as the author (me) says in the opening paragraphs, “by no means an exhaustive review”. In other words a lot more could be said, but the paper gives, I hope, a reasonable overview of the concepts and issues. It certainly covers a lot of ground and took a while to compile.
There will be, within a few months, another mistletoe review paper in the Journal of Ecology, as part of the Biological Flora of the British Isles series. More about that one – a collaborative paper – when it’s ready.
Are there Nargles in your mistletoe?
If you’re worried about Nargles in your mistletoe then you’ve probably been reading too much Harry Potter, for that’s the only world where they occur. If indeed they occur at all.
Even in the Potter world the only evidence of their existence is from Luna Lovegood, a fellow Hogwarts student, who suggests they are mischievous beings who steal things. And often live in mistletoe.
Her mistletoe remarks are made in Chapter 21 of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Harry is discovered alone in a roomful of Christmas decorations by Luna. She points out he is standing under some mistletoe. As he hastily retreats she suggests that he’s wise to do so as ‘it’s often infested with Nargles’. Harry has never heard of Nargles but doesn’t admit this.
Three pages later he’s in the same spot, but this time alone with Cho Chang, a young lady who has made it clear she, er, likes him. She, like Luna, mentions that he’s standing under the mistletoe. Harry warns her that ‘it’s probably full of Nargles’ but admits to her he has no idea what Nargles are. This time he doesn’t retreat, throws caution to the wind and kisses Cho, despite the risk of Nargles. [the film version is on Youtube here]
But what is a Nargle? No-one seems to know – they’re never explained and the implication, from other remarks, is that they are either non-existent (i.e. made up by Luna) or extinct or, possibly, just very elusive. In some of the (many) analyses of J K Rowling’s storylines online there are suggestions that maybe Luna made them up to avoid awkward situations – such as meeting Harry Potter under the mistletoe.
So that’s all clear. Nargles are possibly a fictional invention of a fictional character in a fictional world. But if they did exist, in the fictional world, they would infest mistletoe and steal things.
Nothing to worry about really. You’re far more likely to have one of the UK’s six mistletoe insects in your mistletoe. Of which my favourite is the Mistletoe Weevil Ixapion variegatum. Perhaps these are Nargles – they always look fairly mischievous to me. Though, being only a few millimetres long, it’s difficult to imagine them stealing much:
Mistletoe sales – a measure of economic recovery?
US economic news organisation Marketplace visited the Tenbury Well Mistletoe Auctions a week or so ago, for a radio broadcast discussing whether mistletoe sales reflect post-covid economic recovery here in the UK. The general feeling at the auctions was upbeat, which is great – though bear in mind this was recorded just before the Omicron variant hit the news.
Marketplace’s UK reporter Stephen Beard presents the piece, interviewing auctioneer Nick Champion, Festival organiser Diann Dowell and several buyers. Plus myself, pictured on their website with mistletoe in the back garden here in Gloucestershire.
It’s only a short piece, just over 4 minutes long, and well worth a listen – direct link to it is https://www.marketplace.org/2021/12/13/will-brits-embrace-economic-recovery-under-the-mistletoe-this-christmas/
If you’re curious about who Marketplace are (I certainly was) you can find out more on their website – they are a public service broadcaster with a mission to improve economic knowledge through accessible radio journalism. They say they have
“the most widely consumed business and economic news programs in the country. With more than 14 million weekly listeners on more than 800 local public radio stations nationwide and millions more across our digital platforms, we’ve changed the way people think about the economy.”
So probably worth bookmarking their website (or setting your smartspeaker) for more than the occasional mistletoe story.
Mistletoe at Longney, plus a wannabe Road Runner pheasant
A quick wander round the orchards at Longney, south of Gloucester, today. These are the orchards managed by the Gloucestershire Orchard Trust – two old surviving orchards, called Long Tyning and Bollow and two newly planted orchards called, less excitingly, Middle and Lower. All adjoining the upper reaches of the tidal Severn.
Today was primarily to see how the mistletoe there is faring – and what management might be needed this winter.
Beautiful weather, unseasonably mild and with a bit of sun now and then, so no need to dress up warm. There were lots of small growths of mistletoe here and there, much of it showing a good crop of berries, not too much of it and not too little. Just the balance we need – though there will be some pruning in the next couple of months.
In Bollow, the part nearest the river, I was ambushed, as usual, by the sheep who surrounded me as soon as I appeared. Perhaps to say hello but more likely hoping I had brought food. I hadn’t so they were, as usual, disappointed.
The next event was more unusual – the sheep were joined by a cock pheasant, behaving as if he was the leader of the gang, vociferously clucking at me all the time. Odd, but just one of those things – or so I thought at first…
That pheasant then never left my side for the next 20 minutes, trotting at my heel like a dog, but occasionally lunging at me. Was he hungry or was he being aggressive? He was certainly persistent. If I ran he ran, big wide steps reminiscent of Road Runner but without the Beep Beep. Did he think I was Wile E. Coyote? I tried faux swerves through the trees to shake him off but he always caught up, sometimes even got ahead. Very odd. I do hope no one was watching.
He was so persistent and, at times, so threatening (that beak looked sharp!) that I abandoned my plan to investigate the partially fallen mistletoe-laden riverside poplar, for which I would need to crouch down. I wasn’t letting that beak anywhere near my head!
I finally shook him off by returning to the barn in the middle of the orchards and fooling him into a corner where he couldn’t follow easily because of a netting fence.
I never did find out what he wanted – but maybe it was just a peck on the cheek under the mistletoe?
Grow your own peck on the cheek with a Mistletoe Grow-Kit from the English Mistletoe Shop.
The tip-jar (new for 2021, not quite sure about this!)
Mistletoe Diary is, of course, free. But every little helps support my miscellaneous missions minimising mistletoe misunderstandings.
The innocence of H1N1 and mistletoe
Discussing the mistletoe kissing crisis with a reporter recently I recalled the ‘Kissing Etiquette’ devised by Debretts, in conjunction with the Tenbury Mistletoe Festival, back in 2009. That was in the winter of the H1N1 Swine Flu Pandemic – a time that seems so innocent now.
As does the kissing advice of the day – which was, basically, that kissing on the cheeks is more hygienic that on the mouth. Which is very probably true. But it is still actual face-to-face touching, which seems unthinkable advice in these times of face-masks and social distancing. I suspect that there was only limited epidemiological content in Debretts advice at the time! They did suggest that if you felt ill you shouldn’t be at the party (what party?) in the first place – an instruction that also seems a little naïve now.
But if you were felt ok and so were attending a gathering the under-the-mistletoe technique suggested was, having asked for permission first, to do a cheek-to-cheek. Going for the other person’s right cheek first and then the other side. Keeping both encounters brief. Not something that would be recommended now. Apart from for fellow household members, obviously.
Debretts now, in a recent blog on The Return of the Mask make it very clear that they fully support mask-wearing and that it is good practice to wear one and to practice social distancing.
There’s no mention in that blog of kissing or indeed mistletoe. Too tricky to tackle perhaps. But I suspect, if they were to devise an etiquette for that now it would be much more complex than in 2009.
With perhaps a suggestion that a first step would be asking if there was permission for the gathering(!). Secondly swapping info on recent test results and level of vaccination. And thirdly, if the first two answers are satisfactory, asking whether the other person would prefer a mistletoe elbow bump, or foot-tap, or an air-kiss. Through a mask – across two metres.
The elbow-bump seems to be quite popular, though it is worth making sure you are not being presumptuous, always be sure the other party wants to greet you like this:
Plan ahead for a post-covid world – start growing your own mistletoe kisses by buying a Mistletoe Grow-Kit from the English Mistletoe Shop.
Can mistletoe save the honeyeater?
The Regent Honeyeater, Anthochaera phrygia, an Australian bird, was once so common that its call was heard everywhere. Today, following much habitat loss over several decades, plus recent bushfires, it is endangered, with just a few hundred left.
Indeed it is so rare that young males can no longer learn their mating calls, there being insufficient older males for them to learn from. No mating call = no mating. Which makes a bad situation even more critical.
A local species of mistletoe might help. Not with the mating calls but with food, particularly nectar, the honeyeater’s primary diet (hence ‘honeyeater’). The loss of eucalyptus forests, in which the birds fed on nectar from both the eucalyptus trees and the mistletoes growing on them, has been the main cause of the bird’s decline. More nectar availability would therefore be useful.
But eucalyptus trees, though fast-growing, aren’t fast growing enough for any new planting scheme to have an rapid impact. But mistletoe is. So an initiative in NSW is focussing on propagating mistletoe by hand, gathering the seeds and planting them on the available trees to increase mistletoe numbers. This should increase nectar availability within a few years (these mistletoes must be faster-growing than our mistletoe here in the UK).
This all sounds great, but I do wonder about the sustainability of it. It would seem to be a programme to significantly intensify mistletoe infections – which may not be the best plan longer-term. But presumably there are tree-planting initiatives too.
You can grow your own here in the UK with a Mistletoe Grow-Kit from the English Mistletoe Shop.
Dodgy Mistletoe Spin-offs 1957: Tony Hancock, sub-Druid 476
Ok, this isn’t a 2021 mistletoe spin-off, it’s a January 1957 one, but re-broadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra yesterday (8th December 2021). In this episode of Hancock’s Half Hour, the thirteenth in the fourth series, the lad himself (Tony H) is spooked by the unlucky number 13 (he is triskaidekaphobic) and takes to his bed, refusing to take part. He explains he’s from a suspicious part of the world (Birmingham!) and is afraid ‘the little people’ are out to get him.
He thinks that personal intervention from the (highly lucrative in gullible members’ fees) local Mystic Society can save him, so he seeks an audience with the ‘Head Druid’ (Sid James – who else? – who runs several fee-paying societies). The Head Druid suggests salvation might be found by visiting Stonehenge, tonight, conditional on a fee of £100 (reduced from an initial suggestion of £500) for a ceremony. Hancock agrees, and the Head Druid, after Hancock has left, tells his staff;
Get the lads out of the snooker hall, we’ve got a rush job down at Stonehenge, bring the ‘oods and any mistletoe left over from Christmas,
On arrival at the stones Brother Hancock announces that;
I’ve brought me robe, me rabbit’s foot, me clover and me mistletoe and me pack of cards
He’s told to put the cash down on the sacrificial stone, after which he’ll be tied to a stone and has to count to 1000 whilst the, er, ‘little people’ run off with the cash. Hancock is later arrested by the Stonehenge police (Kenneth Williams) who apparently take the stones home every night for safe-keeping. During his arrest Hancock cries out;
Mind my mistletoe!
And, er that’s it. This was cutting edge comedy in 1957…
The BBC broadcast is available on BBC Sounds for a while but there’s also a version on YouTube.
On the YouTube version the initial introduction of the Head Druid is at 12.50, Hancock’s chat with him is at 14.30, the instruction to the lads is at 18.34, the ceremony begins at 21.10, the arrest is at 26.26.
Dodgy Mistletoe Spin-offs 2021 #1 The Smooching Sweater
The first of a few rather tasteless mistletoe-themed things for this season. Thankfully it’s too late to get this one – the Smooching Sweater – now, so there’s no need to worry. Unless someone managed to get you one for Christmas. Each sweater had to be won though – you couldn’t just buy one. The competition closed at the end of November, so they may already be collectibles. And it was US-based, not here in the UK. There’s no accounting for taste in the US.
But, though I say it is tasteless, this particular product is, actually, all about taste – chewing gum taste. It was a promotion by Orbit Peppermint Gum to help you get ‘your zing back’, and freshen your breath for that kiss below the mistletoe. The mistletoe concerned being on a wire attached to the back of the sweater and the chewing gum dispensed, for you and your kissee, from a dispenser on the front of the sweater. And just in case that didn’t work the whole sweater is peppermint scented anyway.
A unique combination of being tasteless and pepper-flavoured/scented at the same time. It also lights up, controlled by a remote control on the sleeve and has flashy sequins across the chest. One size fits all.
The ‘mistletoe’ is, of course, just moulded plastic, the usual cheat. But at least the concept is unconventional. Orbit seemed pleased to describe it as ugly. And their webpage about it gives a new meaning to FOMO, concluding that, even though the competition is over;
No further mention of the need for mistletoe though.
Grow your own pearlescent berries with a Mistletoe Grow-Kit from the English Mistletoe Shop.