Jonathan's Mistletoe Diary

December 28, 2011

UK Mistletoe looking good, US mistletoe looking, well, a bit scruffy…

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jonathan Briggs @ 5:22 pm

.

Whilst we’ve had a ‘bumper crop’ and a ‘glut’ of mistletoe here in the UK they’ve had a shortage over in the USA.

.

Theirs is a different species of course, and not really anything like ours – except that it’s a tree parasite with white berries.

.

That might (white berries etc) seem to be all that matters, but have a look at the shape of the plants – American v European:

(see pics left – click to enlarge).

.

Ours is the real mistletoe of ancient traditions, and I think it shows – ours has real class, with unique forking branches, and perfectly paired leaves, giving it a striking symmetry as well as the white berries of intrigue.

No druid in their right mind would trouble themselves over those scruffy stems of the US-version – why would you think those were magical?

But I digress. Magical or not, that scruffy-looking apology for mistletoe (sorry) US mistletoe has been in short supply this season. And no, it has nothing to do with orchards – the US mistletoe ‘crop’ is taken from trees in the wider countryside, not farmed trees, and it is (this is the US remember) often shot down. None of that climbing up a ladder business we do over here…

[Our druid ancesters must be spinning in their graves at the thought of the plant of peace being harvested with a shot-gun.]

So, why has there been a shortage of US mistletoe?  Basically it’s been too dry for it, and it doesn’t thrive in drought conditions.

Most of the Christmas crop is from the south, traditionally from Texas, where it is marketed in small towns like Goldthwaite and Priddy and shipped across the country. A weeny bit similar (though not much) to Tenbury Wells in Worcestershire, England.

Here’s a quote from one of the largest suppliers Tiemann’s of Priddy:

One of the country’s largest suppliers, Tiemann’s Mistletoe in Priddy, Tex., has halted shipments for the first time in its 58-year history.  “If you have been kissed under the mistletoe and it was bought, there’s a 95 percent chance it came from us,” said Robert Tiemann, the owner.  But not this year. “There’s not enough mistletoe in the State of Texas to run a commercial operation,” said Mr. Tiemann, who is known as Speedy.  He estimated that 60 to 70 percent of the plants in the state have been compromised by the drought, which has been the worst in Texas history. Many retailers and wholesalers in New York have had to reach out to suppliers as far west as California to get the plant.

The quote is from the New York Times – which also comments that some people don’t like the plant:

“It’s an ugly little bush,” said Gardel Prudent of Gardel’s Greene Garden in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, who will not carry mistletoe this year.

And yes (look left – this is a genuine promotional pic for US mistletoe), it often is an ugly little bush – the tradition of adding a red ribbon seems to be from the US – probably to make it look more presentable…

(take heed girls – this scruffy bit of greenery is what Justin Bieber is singing about – not the true mistletoe of Europe, which he’s probably never seen…)

The full NYTimes report is here – note that some people had to be told the difference between holly and mistletoe, and were then shocked at how pathetic (sorry!)  their mistletoe actually is – perhaps it’s no wonder a lot of Americans substitute holly for mistletoe – compared with their mistletoe species holly is far more presentable.

.

Unlike here in Europe where the holly may be jolly but the mistletoe is kisstletoe (sorry, can’t think of a better slogan just now…  I’ll get me coat…)

Advertisements

December 27, 2011

Mistletoe on SpringWatch – not bad but could do better!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jonathan Briggs @ 7:15 pm

Have just been viewing the BBC Springwatch Christmas Special (broadcast yesterday and on iplayer here – mistletoe is from 1.16mins to 1.20mins) to see what they said about mistletoe.  I had been expecting something about Mistle Thrushes, as Kate Humble had tweeted that she was off to film Mistle Thrushes on mistletoe a few weeks ago.

So, were Mistle Thrushes featured?   Well no, not really, apart from some pretty shots and a verbal description of what they do – which was slightly disappointing.  I’d expected at least some footage of thrushes eating mistletoe (easy in the right place – we saw this two days ago in Dorset and mistletoe’s scarce there), and I’d really been hoping for footage of the excreted strings of mistletoe seeds – but no, nothing like that at all.

So, what did they actually cover?  A good, but rather generic, account of mistletoe in orchards – almost word for word the sort of pieces I’ve been involved in for tv countryside programmes over 10 years plus – the mistletoe-laden apple orchard, the presenter (KH) saying ‘gosh, I’ve never seen so much’ or words to that effect, the interviewee explaining that it’s a parasite and a mixed blessing for the tree, plus passing references to the 6 mistletoe insects and the obligatory comment that ‘not all birds recognise the white berries as food’.  A good interview though, despite it being, from a mistletoe point of view, rather over-rehearsed in innumerable preceding programmes.  Interviewee was the very confident and plausible Neil McDonald of the Orchard Pig cider company in Somerset.  Good work Neil (though I think I have copyright on that phrase about the white berries!)

But not so good Springwatch.  Surely they could have spruced this up with something more original?  They mentioned Blackcaps as berry vectors – but totally overlooked the fact that, for British mistletoe at least, these overwintering berry spreaders are new – with massively increased overwintering Blackcap populations in recent decades – which may be affecting mistletoe spread.  Not to mention the really exciting point that these overwintering birds are a genetic  sub-race of the species.  Both of those angles are really interesting, cutting edge stuff and incredibly topical and newsworthy.   But maybe Springwatch doesn’t do topical and cutting edge, at least not for the Chrimbo special.

Another mega-point they missed was the management issue – only mentioning that mistletoe could take over the trees is one thing, but how about reference to the burgeoning and emerging need for better orchard (and garden) mistletoe management – and the fact that if it’s not improved we might lose much of the accessible crop (other than in niche, managed orchards), and the tradition of harvesting etc.  Surely that could have been mentioned at least – it is the most important issue for mistletoe (and associated wildlife) in orchards (though not in wider countryside!!) at present.  Plus (of course) in omitting this they also failed to cover the new Mistletoe League Project – aiming to document mistletoe management in orchards and ultimately encourage better mistletoe husbandry.

Maybe next time.

December 24, 2011

The crowned frog of India, under the mistletoe

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jonathan Briggs @ 10:24 am

The cover of The Economist magazine’s Christmas edition features a rather confident-looking frog, sporting a small golden crown, under a sprig of mistletoe. It looks gratuitously frivolous, and it is, partly. But the frog image is taken from a very serious essay inside on the plight of frogs, particularly the frogs of the Western Ghats, in southern India.

.

The frog in question is just one of many species being studied by Sathyabhama Biju Das, an amphibian researcher at Delhi University. He is documenting frog species of the region, aiming to discover as many species as possible, as so many remain undocumented and at risk of extinction before discovery. All good stuff. But for more about Mr Biju’s excellent work you’ll have to buy the Economist, because I want to concentrate on that cover picture.

Why? Because it’s obviously been photo-shopped. And no, I’m not talking about the crown on the frog – that’s too obvious (and maybe Indian frogs do sport crowns – I’m not ruling that out, or in, but zoology can be very surprising…). No, I’m thinking of that mistletoe – which, if real and unaltered, is a botanical miracle.

.

It is, of course, real mistletoe and not plastic, that’s clear from the berries and leaves. So what’s my worry?

.

It’s the berries between the leaves in the front sprig:  Berries form one internode back from the terminal bud, so are never at the ends of branches, and rarely between the leaves. The two sprigs behind show the accurate arrangment – with the berries behind the leaves and only a bud between the leaves themselves.

.

So the berries in the foreground have been ‘shopped in. Shocking!

.

If you don’t believe me look at the flower scars, or rather the lack of them, on that very front berry. If it’s in a true position it would have the flower scar (a distinctive 5-spot scar – see the berries behind) facing the camera – but it’s not there, there’s just a hint of it facing downwards. It makes the berry look unnaturally ‘blind’.

.

This false placing of berries between the leaves is a common phenomenon in Christmas imagery on cards and wrapping paper (artists seem to think it looks better – not sure why) but those are usually paintings or other artwork. It’s unusual to see this done in a photo – and here it’s fairly well done – I’d give it 6/10 for plausibilty. If they’d got that flower scar right I might even give it 8/10. But never full marks, as the arrangement just isn’t botanically possible.

.

This’ll be the last mistletoe post before Christmas – so have a good one, and be careful under that mistletoe – not all frogs turn into princes (or princesses)

 

PS Within the Economist’s frog article, by the way, Mr Biju is revealed to be a plant scientist who turned to frogs because ‘ plants are very boring’. He’s obviously never heard of mistletoe(s)…

PPS Apparently this is the 300th post in my mistletoe blog – which has been running, in a variety of hosting identities (but all  consolidated into this wordpress version) since October 2004.

December 23, 2011

Mistletoe on the One Show

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jonathan Briggs @ 9:13 am

Mistletoe featured on BBC’s The One Show yesterday evening, and you can watch it again here (for a week or two).

The feature is in the last 10 minutes or so of the show (or so I’m told, haven’t seen it myself yet as was out last night and on mobile internet this morning) and includes brief interviews with Suzanne Thomas (Mistletoe Foundation) on mistletoe and druidry, Mark Adams (Kissmemistletoe) on mistletoe harvesting in orchards and myself (Mistletoe Matters and English Mistletoe Shop) on what mistletoe is etc. Whole thing presented by Christine Walkden, the gardening specialist on the One Show.

Overall a good feature (or so I’m told as I’ve not seen it yet) which is very satisfying as I set up most of it. Thanks to Suzanne, Mark and all others involved for their patience, and to Topical TV of Southampton who produced it.

.

.

If you can only see this blog entry (and none below) click the Mistletoe Diary header above or click here.

December 21, 2011

A real mistletoe almost-extinction story – but not in the UK

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jonathan Briggs @ 5:55 pm

There’s more than one mistletoe in the World – indeed there up to 1500 of them – and just because the UK and northern European species is not at risk of extinction (see blog entry earlier today – below or click here) doesn’t mean we can be reassured about all the others.

There is concern at present about mistletoe species in Pilbara (see map left), a region of Western Australia, where changes in burning regimes are limiting the ability of mistletoe populations to recover.  

Because mistletoes have short-lived seeds (our own species’ seeds can’t be kept in the Kew Seedbank because they are so short-lived), and need to be spread by birds, they are slow to recolonise large fire-damaged areas, and so are considered to be at risk of extinction where fire-damage is extensive and/or frequent.  The Pilbara mistletoes support a variety of insect species, particularly butterflies, and so are important as a biodiversity resource.

The full story though, like the story about UK mistletoe, isn’t quite that simple.  We’re talking here about local extinction – not national extinction – the official phrase is ‘sub-regional extinction’.  There’s ‘no evidence of an extinction threat at the bioregional or national level’.  So this is bad, but not as bad as full extinction.

And it is an interesting contrast to the UK mistletoe ‘extinction’ stories being bandied about.  This one could also become misquoted and spun as something more apocalyptic, and this one is also about a predicted future – it hasn’t happened yet, but probably will in coming years.

Full story is here:  http://www.sciencewa.net.au/3808-pilbara-mistletoe-faces-sub-regional-extinction.html

.

Will the extinction stories ever become extinct?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jonathan Briggs @ 8:29 am

Spent some time in the last few days responding to press queries about the threat to mistletoe in future – with most enquirers, as usual, misunderstanding the story completely.  It gets spun as a threat to mistletoe as a wild plant, with doom’n’gloom stories about mistletoe becoming ‘extinct’ in the UK in 20 years.

But (as I’ve said many times before) that’s NOT the story and NOT the problem.  The story is that as apple orchards decline further, the mistletoe crop, mostly from apple orchards, will decrease and this will impact on the seasonal kissing tradition as mistletoe will (eventually but seemingly inevitably) be in short supply.  There may, or may not, also be an impact on mistletoe’s obligate insect fauna.  But, and this is very important, in the wider countryside mistletoe is doing fine  – and may even be spreading and expanding its range.  There is no risk of extinction.  The issue is about supply, traditional harvests, traditional orchard conservation and subtleties of mistletoe conservation in terms of biomass, critical population size for insects etc.  But it’s not extinction – far from it!

An additional subtlety is that the orchard and mistletoe issue really only applies to the mistletoe heartlands of Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Somerset – and so the plethora of stories this season from, er, Sussex, has seemed rather weird.  Mistletoe has never been a significant crop of orchards there, probably has suffered no decline, and is locally abundant and unthreatened where it does occur in the county.

I have to accept that I have some responsibility for the warped story though, as the ’20 years’ figure is, I think, my prediction (though only for supply, and only from orchards) and I’ve allowed my name to be used in media releases about this over several years – but those releases often get re-written and over-simplified with the message mutating into this extinction story and ‘attributed’ to me.  Or some hack just mis-reads it, possibly intentionally, to get a better headline.

So it was useful, yesterday, to discuss a short release aiming to get the facts straight – there’s a threat to the harvest but ‘in the wild’ the plant is, intriguingly, spreading – with a well-known plant conservation charity – we’ll see what comes of that in the next couple of days.

But disappointing, this morning, to check mistletoe news feeds and immediately finding the extinction story online, albeit on a South African news site.  Here’s a quote from their story – it’s a perfectly formed example of the sort of quote that I want to make extinct:

According to conservationists, snatching a kiss under the mistletoe will be a thing of the past as the plant is set to be extinct on British shores within a couple of decades.

How can I get rid of these stupid stories?

December 19, 2011

How are you on mistletoe trivia?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jonathan Briggs @ 6:06 pm

That awkward annual question – is mistletoe declining? – has been cropping up big-time in the last few days, reminding me that the answer, yes and no, is difficult to put across.  Yes it’s declining as a crop as the main harvesting habitat (orchards) are lost though removal or neglect – and so the crop might be tiny in, say, 20 years time. But no, it’s not declining, as it is not threatened at all in the wider environment (countryside, gardens and parkland) and, if anything, is spreading and increasing its range.  Confused?  Don’t worry – it’s all a bit too serious for Christmas.

Instead why not try your hand at a Mistletoe Trivia Quiz?  There are (at least) two on offer online at the moment:

ilovelooe.co.uk have a 12-point Mistletoe Quiz online at http://www.ilovelooe.co.uk/2011/mistletoe-christmas-quiz – complete with a cut-out and keep emergency mistletoe motif.  Thanks to Christopher Halls for pointing this one out to me.

And, designed for children, but just as relevant to grown-ups too, is the  8-point  BBC Newsround Mistletoe Quiz at http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/16164453

.

Of course, if mistletoe trivia isn’t your thing why not look at the serious stuff again – there are some well serious mistletoe questions for you (if you’re an orchard owner with mistletoe)  in the Mistletoe League Project.

A better press story

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jonathan Briggs @ 9:25 am

Following on from the weekend’s oversimplistic media stories (particularly from the BBC) about a threat to mistletoe in general, there’s a much better piece in today’s Yorkshire Post.

Here’s a key quote:

Mistletoe, as a species, is doing just fine. But mistletoe as a crop, taken from old orchards, is certainly threatened as those orchards continue to be neglected or grubbed out.

The full article is at http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/community/nostalgia/evergreen_kisses_1_4069478

.

.

December 18, 2011

Mistletoe is still scentless despite the candles and pot-pourri

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jonathan Briggs @ 11:09 am

According to this blog’s stats some people are visiting these pages following a search for ‘what does mistletoe smell like’ or words to that effect.  I’m not surprised that they’re asking – as there are many seasonal mistletoe-branded scented products out there – candles, pot-pourri etc.  And they’re a complete con – mistletoe doesn’t have a scent.  

I covered this last winter – hence the hits on the searches – but it seems timely to re-visit the issue.  Last year I concentrated on candles – reviewing a few of the ones labelled as mistletoe-scented and discovering that, other than being green or white, they had nothing whatsoever to do with mistletoe. Most seemed to be pine-scented.  Re-visiting a few this season seems to confirm this – Yankee Candles are marketing their ‘Mistletoe and Fig’ range as having ‘the authentic, true-to-life fragrance’ of, er the ‘naturally fresh scent of gleaming, snow-covered pines’.  No mistletoe then.  Or figs for that matter.

This year I’ve investigated some of the mistletoe pot-pourri products.  So what do those smell like? Well, Colonial HomeScents ‘Frosted Mistletoe’ (box pictured above) smells of – you guessed it – Pine.  And not any old pine-scent – this one (believe me, I’ve picked a box up and sniffed it) really does smell like pine disinfectant – which is what I likened the candles to last year.

To emphasise the cheap, tacky, link to mistletoe, their label (see detail left) depicts what is clearly plastic mistletoe with artificial frosting.

So, no real mistletoe inside, and no real mistletoe on the label either.  At least they’re consistent!

But why are these candles and pot-pourri labelled them as mistletoe-scented?  I’ve no idea – apart from trying to re-brand pine-scented candles differently to sell more at Christmas.
.
A total and utter con though – and perhaps someone should be formally complaining about it.  But the con covers a wide geographic area – Europe and North America – so it might be more trouble than it’s worth.

Misinformation in the media – wildlife ‘experts’ should know better

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jonathan Briggs @ 9:19 am

The usual misinformation about mistletoe decline is hitting the news again this weekend.  It’s a common problem at this time of year – the mistletoe crop is threatened as the cropping habitats (traditional orchards) decline but mistletoe itself, as a species, is not threatened, and indeed seems to be increasing.  So there is legit concern for the crop, and this can be used, correctly, to make a case for orchard conservation (a good thing).

But that subtlety, that there isn’t actually a threat to the species – only to the crop, is lost to the media, and isn’t helped by so-called ‘experts’ in wildlife groups spinning the story as a threat to mistletoe.  So, yesterday we had the Sussex Wildlife Trust telling anyone who’d listen that mistletoe kisses were under threat – and stating the plant itself was threatened.  Whilst, at the same time, on their Facebook page, posting a link to a Sussex Biological Records Centre article about how mistletoe was abundant in Sussex and  increasing in England.  The contradiction was obvious.

Today the BBC and the PA have picked up on the Sussex WT scare story, embellished it with some quotes from previous years and added a new amazing ‘fact’ that it could ‘ disappear from woodland within 20 years as traditional orchards decline.’  Whatever that means.  Mistletoe doesn’t grow in woodlands – so it can hardly disappear from them.  And why orchard loss affects woodlands isn’t clear either.

The real story is simple – orchards are declining, the mistletoe crop is mostly from orchards, and so the mistletoe crop is threatened.  Not the mistletoe in the wider countryside though – that’s increasing if anything.  So there’s a threat to the crop only.  What is the relevance to wildlife?  Well, in wildlife terms mistletoe in orchards is good – adding considerably to their biodiversity.  So there is a good wildlife argument for keeping mistletoe going in orchards, and for keeping orchards – but that’s just a ‘good thing’, it’s not essential for mistletoe per se.

The wider story is a little more complex – older, neglected orchards often have too  much mistletoe – and this is increasing their decline.  So if there has to be a wildlife campaign this season, please promote proper management of mistletoe, not run overly simplistic scare stories about mistletoe being threatened.

Next Page »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: