Radio Mistletoe…

For those who missed the Mistletoe-themed BBC R4 programme on Christmas Day, it’s available on BBC iPlayer here (edited 28th Dec to add correct link):

Covering the Mistletoe Festival in Tenbury Wells, the Druid procession, mistletoe harvesting, and general mistletoe, er, stuff in apple orchards.  For those who want to listen again on the proper radio, or who can’t use iPlayer ‘cos they’re in the wrong country, it is being re-broadcast on Thursday 30th at 1500hrs GMT and should be listenable everywhere..  More info on the BBC pages here.

And, for balance, another link to the recent US NPR broadcast of mistletoe harvesting in Tennessee:

Some US mistletoe, and some from Scarborough too?

With Christmas behind us, there’s New Year to look forward to – which is the right time (naturellement) for mistletoe if you live en France.

But we’ll have more about French New Year Mistletoe customs later in the week.  For now, here are a few links to stories about US mistletoe – including a seasonal  ‘shooting it down’ story.  Most of the mistletoe species used in America at Christmas grow rather high in the host trees, and shooting it down is a regular seasonal pastime for some.  Here’s a recent account about James Henderson of Lynchberg, Virginia who;

leans forward, slowly squeezes the trigger and lets loose with a series of shots that echo in the crisp morning air. The bare branches of the dying oak shimmy, sending fat water drops onto Henderson’s bright green turtleneck.

“I love shooting mistletoe because it always reminds me of my granddad,” said Henderson, who sells the mistletoe at Lynchburg’s Community Market during the holidays.

His grandfather’s .22 single-shot rests against the moss-speckled fence as he examines the clusters of green bunched tightly against different branches of the tree.

“A lot of people like using ladders, but I grew up shooting it,” he said with a smile as he nestles the butt of the gun against his shoulder again.

He sometimes spends an entire day hunting the plant. It took about an hour and more than three dozen .22 shells to fill one basket of mistletoe on a recent Friday.

That’s from Christmas Day’s issue of  Richmond Times Dispatch.

Not all US mistletoe is shot out of the trees though – here’s an alternative approach from Tennessee, reported by NPR radio on 22nd December (the link has an audio feed too), where 60-year old Bill Anderson climbs trees to get it:

In east Tennessee, one harvester, Bill Anderson, spotted some mistletoe in a leafless maple tree. The tree is down a narrow scratchy path that winds past an old graveyard, across a half-frozen bog and an ice-cold stream.

It looks like someone tossed an evergreen shrub into the tree’s highest branches.

“I really can’t tell how big it is from here,” Anderson says. “It’s about two feet across. And I have no idea how high that is.”

He settles on around 35 feet, but Anderson can handle it. At 60 years old, he’s a seasoned climber with all the proper safety gear. And he likes being up in the trees — he says it’s both challenging and peaceful up there.

If  you’re curious about US mistletoe you’ll find out a little more in this piece, by herbal medicine specialist Holli Richey, in yesterday’s Athens Banner-Herald online. (that’s Athens, Georgia, in case you’re wondering)

Much closer to home, in Scarborough, Yorkshire there’s this Christmas Eve mistletoe story (pictured left)  from the Scarborough Evening News. This seems an everyday seasonal story about mistletoe at Christmas, but one line is intriguing:  “… Blooms in Victoria Road, who sourced their mistletoe locally…”

They sourced their mistletoe locally? In Scarborough?

There’s hardly any mistletoe in Yorkshire, so what do they mean – is it really from a local source, or is it just generic ‘English’ mistletoe (and therefore probably from Herefordshire or Worcestershire, not really ”local’), or is it just a feel-good marketing phrase, dropped into the media interview following the recent publicity over the (alleged) horrors of imported mistletoe?  I suspect the latter, though of course there could be a mystery mistletoe plantation somewhere along the N Yorks coast…  but I rather doubt it.  But I have recently been alerted to an equally unlikely sounding  commercial mistletoe plantation over in Denmark – but that’s a story for another time.

Meanwhile, if you’ve not taken part in this year’s online questionnaire about mistletoe and where you get it, why not have a go now – I’ll be putting updated stats online in a day or two, so get your data in now…

Go to to take part, or click the direct link below:

Cornish Mistletoe TV alert

Mistletoe in England’s SE corner (i.e. Kent) was covered here last week so this week it’s the SW’s turn, with rare Cornish mistletoe turning up on TV.

Mistletoe really is (and probably always has been) very scarce in Cornwall, so the thriving population at Cotehele,a National Trust property just on the Cornish side of the Tamar is particularly interesting.  I’m not sure how it got there – it could be a remnant population of mistletoe from the long lost Tamar apple orchards, or it could be a deliberate introduction by a gardener.  There have been recent hints that it’s the latter.

Anyway, the thing is, the Cotehele mistletoe is on TV tomorrow night.  ITV’s Countrywise programme filmed their Christmas special in Cornwall earlier in the winter, and featured the Cotehele mistletoe in their schedule.  Their Christmas show is going out on Christmas Eve, but I’ve been told today that the mistletoe feature is NOT in that programme – it’s in tomorrow’s (Wednesday 22nd) ‘Countrywise Winter Special’ (not to be confused with the Countrywise Christmas Special, obviously!).

(Edit 22nd Dec – well, the footage was shown, but you wouldn’t have guessed it was Cornwall, as they had linked it to a Worcestershire-based story mentioning Tenbury Wells – which is a bit of shame, as Tenbury (yawn… ) gets all the mistletoe credit each year and has already featured on TV repeatedly this season (and indeed every season).  It would have been far more interesting to stress the Cornwall angle, rather than covering it up.  But that’s TV for you – ever so slightly annoying, and often missing the finer issues! The full Countrywise Christmas prog, which IS stressing it’s all in Cornwall, is being broadcast on Friday 24th – but it won’t have the mistletoe orchard bits).

So, if you want to catch Cornish mistletoe on TV (that means you Leonore Newson!) watch ITV1 at 1900 on Wednesday 22nd.  If you miss it it’ll be watchable afterwards at

And, if you’ve not already had a look, watch this National Trust video about Cotehele Mistletoe too.


Please spend 5 minutes completing the 2010 Mistletoe Questionnaire!!


And why not buy the book?

Mistletoe from Mount Mabu

A few media reports today (Telegraph here, Science2.0 here) of yet more new species discoveries – there seem to have been a lot recently.  This time the reports are about some results from Kew expedition around the world.  And, unusually, there’s a mistletoe!

Now, don’t get too excited – there are already 1300+ mistletoes around the world, so another one isn’t a surprise, but it is a rather satisfying story as the official version implies it was first spotted by an entomologist – not a botanist.  Here’s part of the description from Kew’s formal page on the species:

This parasitic plant is one of the tropical mistletoes or loranths. It was recently discovered near the summit of Mt Mabu in northern Mozambique during a Kew-led expedition to investigate the biodiversity and conservation requirements of a range of mountains in this part of south-eastern Africa. Helixanthera schizocalyx is found on stunted trees such as Psychotria zombamontana(Rubiaceae – coffee family) at the upper edge of wet montane forests where broad granite peaks break through. So far it is known from just five collections, all in the same small area. It was first noticed by Colin Congdon, a renowned East African butterfly specialist, who realised it was different from anything he had seen on mountains in Malawi and Tanzania. Lepidopterists pay particular attention to members of the Loranthaceae family as many species are specific hosts for a group of interesting butterflies.

This point about looking out for mistletoes because of their value for invertebrates is very topical, and it applies just as easily to our mistletoe, Viscum album.

We currently have 6 specialist insects on our species – 1 beetle, 4 bugs and a moth – but all are considered valuable in conservation terms  and, increasingly,  get as much attention and biodiversity action than mistletoe itself!  Two were discovered as new species to Britain in the last 10 years, and the moth (the Mistletoe Marble Moth) has been designated a Priority Species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.  Mistletoe insects enjoy a lot of attention, and they probably have a key and critical role in wider mistletoe conservation.

More on this story in this Kew news announcment.

Mistletoe Survey update #2

Latest results of the 2010 Mistletoe Questionnaire are presented below.  We’ve now has over 300 responses (the figures below were saved at the 269 mark), but we still need more, so do take part if you haven’t already – and do pass it on to your friends.  (Q12, the free-form response, is now too long to present easily – there’ll be a summary of that in due course…)

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Waitrose and other stories

Waitrose have, apparently, sold rather a lot of mistletoe this season.  240% up on last year already.

Their Horticulture Buying Manager Sue Steptoe said “A kiss under the mistletoe is a wonderfully romantic Christmas tradition. This year sales have soared to such an extent we’ve had to get our hands on extra mistletoe to meet demand. We’ll be responsible for nearly half a million kisses by Christmas.”

(If you want to buy from Waitrose visit one of the shops, or buy online via  But remember you can buy online from other vendors too – see this blog for 10th December)

Other current mistletoe news and links of interest:

The RSPB’s Countdown to Christmas Blog covers mistletoe today, and includes a link to the mistletoe survey…

The 2010 Mistletoe Survey still needs more participants – so do take part if you haven’t already, it’s just a short questionnaire about where you get your mistletoe and what you do with it…

And if you want to see, or hear, mistletoe trivia from the comfort of home over Christmas you’ll find it featured on ITV1’s Countrywise programme on Christmas Eve at 4.55pm (probably at the start of the programme), (UPDATE 21st Dec – the mistletoe feature will be in Countrywise’s broadcast on Wednesday 22nd, not their Christmas Eve show) and mistletoe will be the main feature of BBC Radio 4’s Open Country on Christmas Day at 06.07 (yes, that’s 6.07 am!), repeated at 3.00pm on Thursday 30th.  More about the Open Country Mistletoe programme here.

Kentish mistletoe

What is it about Kent and Mistletoe? Since the recent National Trust news story highlighting the risk to mistletoe supplies due to the loss of old-style apple orchards I’ve been fielding regular enquiries from Kent newspapers and Radio journalists about the assumed loss of mistletoe there. And I always have to tell them that, actually, they’ve not lost much of it – as they never had much in the first place.

The confusion arises because Kent was quoted in the NT story as an area that has lost 90% of apple orchards, and as the main story was about how mistletoe relies on apple orchards, 2 + 2 were duly put together, and people assumed Kent must therefore have lost masses of its mistletoe.

A reasonable assumption in the circumstances.  But actually mistletoe has always been a relative rarity in the east of Britain, with just a few pockets of growth, in a few orchards and a few country estates (where it would be mainly on lime trees).  So it was a teeny bit misleading to quote the Kent statistic in the NT story.

So just where is the mistletoe in Kent?  Well, there are a few good locations:

From country estate/parkland the best bet is probably Penshurst Place, where it grows on several trees in the grounds (lots of suitable habitat – see aerial pic, left), and is very obvious high in the limes as you approach – I’ll try to find a pic.

You can buy it from the Gift Shop/Plant Centre here too – probably the only place you can guarantee your mistletoe is ‘Kent-grown’.

Orchard mistletoe is a bit less easy to find, but there’s some around Chilham (where it also grows in other trees), and it is seems to be actively encouraged by the proprietors of Rough Old Wife Cider who have several acres of traditional cider apple orchards.  There’s a recent BBC TV feature about those orchards here

But on the whole mistletoe is, and probably always was, a rarity in Kent.  A few new populations might arise.  Back in February 2006 (see Mistletoe Diary for 13th Feb 06 and 25th Feb 06)  I worked with the promoters of the Down House World Heritage bid to encourage new populations in Downe village and around Down House.  It was here that Charles Darwin wrote, albeit briefly, about mistletoe in On the Origin of Species.  Whether he had local mistletoe available at the time is unrecorded, but we tend to (though with no evidence!) assume he probably did.

Kent is also beginning to feature in imaginative  ‘statistics’ about imports – some recent media reports have stated that “95% of mistletoe sold in Kent now comes from abroad”.  Which might be true, but there aren’t any real data to prove it one way or the other.  That 95% figure has been made-up.  But, since Kent has never had much mistletoe, but does have strong transport links with France (where most mistletoe imports come from), it seems fairly likely that most mistletoe sold in Kent has always been imported.  Not a new phenomenon there at all.

Not all ‘mistletoe’ in Kent is what it seems either.  I had hoped the new ‘Mistletoe Court’ development in Gillingham might be named for some obvious, unusual, mistletoe colony nearby.  But no, it seems to have got its name because it’s in Christmas Street…

Differing mistletoe

How many mistletoes do you know?  There are about 1500 species around the world!  But, as this blog is written in the UK, it tends to favour the northern European mistletoe, Viscum album. That’s not just for geographic reasons: Viscum album is the mistletoe of legend.  The druidic traditions, Norse, Greek, Roman etc myths about mistletoe, are all derived from this one species. And, of course, this is the species the kissing custom is based on.

But what do you do if you don’t have Viscum album?  Well, you find an alternative species, preferably an evergreen, white-berried one (which immediately discounts most mistletoes!) as those are the key features of our V. album.

Over in the US they usually use species of Phoradendron – as these do fit the requirements, though physically they look quite different (see left).  Here’s a recent account, by Robert Bernstein (borrowed from original page here) of a mistletoe collecting trip in Santa Barbara County, California:

Mistletoe Hike
updated: Dec 12, 2010, 7:58 PM By Robert Bernstein

‘Tis the season… for kissing under the mistletoe! And how best to prepare for this? By hiking with the Sierra Club and collecting some mistletoe yourself!

Today Vicki and Dave Menzies led the annual Sierra Club hike out to Nineteen Oaks off of Paradise Road where there is always mistletoe to be found.

About 25 people turned out on this beautiful day to enjoy the hike, the mistletoe… and kissing under the mistletoe!

Here are my photos. [one inserted above]

By the way… Even though the mistletoe is a parasite that harms the oak trees, the Sierra Club did get a permit from the Forest Service to do this. And there was a Forest Service Ranger out there checking.

Now, why don’t we have more mistletoe outings like this? (actually we do a few, but that’s a subject for another time)

Some interesting points arise from this, most obviously the gathering from oak trees – which are a common host for Phoradendron but, of course, a very rare host for Viscum so the very concept is rather peculiar (and a bit druidic)  to European mistletoe aficionados.  Also the getting permission first – which is good practice anywhere, but often, er, omitted (there’s a lot of mistletoe rustling going on…).

The Phoradendrons seem to like the south, and most US mistletoe is gathered from the southern states.  But if the Sierra Club mistletoe outing had been further north in California they could have gathered real Christmas mistletoe; there’s a thriving introduced colony of Viscum album up in Sonoma County.

But that would have been quite a long hike from Santa Barbara.


Extra mistletoe source

A quick follow-up to Friday’s posting on Where DO you get yours, to cover some more online/mail-order British mistletoe stockists:

On Friday I said that “a few specialist websites, notably Tenbury English Mistletoe Enterprise (TEME), and InterMistletoe (who are Suffolk-based but sell Tenbury mistletoe)” can supply British Mistletoe.

Here are two more:  Firstly TemeWork,  who appear to be taking advantage of the TEME (see above) brand, but are, to be fair, just using a url and site name established 4 years ago for generic Teme Valley promotion. Two mistletoe packages in their range – one at £12, one at £50.  Might or might not be good value; they sell on box-size, not on quantity, and their pictures (one shown on left here) don’t show particularly full boxes!

But they have a good pedigree – the mistletoe is from Michael Adams, who’s been selling mistletoe for many years.

Another ‘new kid’ is RoCeCo, who have just one package (no information on quantity, just a ‘bunch’) at £3.95 plus 70p shipping.  They’re a bit mysterious though, as they claim “it is freshly cut to order” but they’re based in Angus, Scotland, where there is very little (definitely none in commercial quantities) mistletoe growing. Perhaps they’re being a bit economical with the actualité, or perhaps it’s despatched form the West Country?  As they’ve blatently nicked one of my pictures for their website, I’m inclined to suggest the first possibility.

As before then, if you want to be sure it’s British, and especially if you want it to be from Tenbury Wells, try Tenbury English Mistletoe Enterprise (TEME),  InterMistletoe or  TemeWork.

And, as before, if you can’t do that, or just want a new approach why not GROW YOUR OWN. It’ll take a few years to get established but once it’s established you’ll be self-sufficient.  You’ll need a suitable host tree of course.  For information on Mistletoe Grow-kits, and Grow-kit Vouchers for Christmas visit the English Mistletoe Shop.

Please spend 5 minutes completing the 2010 Mistletoe Questionnaire!!

And why not buy the book?

Misinterpreting mistletoe…

Further coverage of the long-term mistletoe harvest story this weekend, with the biggest feature in the Independent.

But still there is some misinterpretation, either by the press or by commentators who mis-read the story.  One comment on the Indie coverage accuses the National Trust of irresponsible scaremongering in predicting mistletoe’s extinction.  Which would be a valid point if they were predicting its extinction.  But they aren’t. They’re predicting a future major problem in the supply of mistletoe – i.e. a significant loss of accessible mistletoe from apple orchards, not extinction.

It’s the commentator, ‘Philthebotanist’, who is scaremongering, and falsely accusing the NT of  doing ‘the overall cause of conservation a disservice’.  It seems to me that it’s ‘Philthebotanist’ who’s doing the disservice here, by not reading and understanding the issue before writing about it.  I’m not sure who ‘Philthebotanist’ is, but I hope he’s not the northern academic botanist, called Phil, who springs to mind, as he should be more wary of what he writes.

Here’s another example, this time of clear mis-reporting, by BBC Cambridgeshire.  They spoil a good story about a local mistletoe farmer (a rare thing in Cambridgeshire) with this line “Naturalists are warning that mistletoe could die out in Britain within the next 20 years.”  Nooooo!  No-one said it will ‘die-out’.  Just that the crop will be hugely reduced.  Not the same thing at all.