More down-under mistletoe, plus some cricket

MacarthurChronicle19thNov2013Yesterday’s blog about giant mistletoes featured the amazing Western Australian Christmas Tree – a mistletoe that grows in the ground by parasitising the host’s roots, not the branches.

And today another Australian mistletoe story caught my eye – though this time because there’s a bit of mistletoe misunderstanding in it. It’s the first of these (mistletoe misunderstandings) I’ve featured for the 2013 season, though it probably won’t be the last, judging by previous years!

The story is from Macarthur Chronicle, a newspaper in Campbelltown, which is a town in New South Wales, just south-west of Sydney. In their 19th Nov issue, they reported that Councillor Rudi Kolkman was highlighting a problem (in his opinion) with local mistletoe infestation. He was suggesting control is needed – which is, in itself, fair enough if indeed there is excess mistletoe. Many mistletoe species can become a problem and some Australian mistletoes have form for this (for example see the story I covered here in December 2012, though do note that this emphasises mistletoe’s positive side too)

Australian Mistletoe Birds

So what was the mistletoe misinformation? Well, clearly Councillor Kolkman doesn’t know much about plants! He suggested the parasitic nature of the local mistletoe makes it unlike the festive variety (when actually it makes it exactly like it!). And then goes on to claim that it is spread by ‘spores’ that are ‘carried on the wind’ and so could infect the whole neighbourhood very quickly. But, most mistletoe seeds (not spores, mistletoe is a highly evolved higher plant and most definitely grows from seeds!) are spread by birds. Which means spread can be to the whole neighbourhood, but it will be one seed at a time and therefore won’t be rapid. Australia even has a special Mistletoe Bird. What does he think this does with mistletoe? Kiss under it?

But, to be fair to Councillor Kolkman, he may be right that local mistletoe needs control (though probably only in urban areas, not in the wider environment where it will be an important part of the ecosystem). But he doesn’t help his case with scaremongering lines about wind-blown spores!

MacarthurChronicle26thNov2013In the 26th Nov issue of the newspaper there is a letter responding to his concerns. The letter writer, Lenka Dostal, says “I have never laughed as much as I have in the evening when I read your article on mistletoe” before going on to describe Kolkman’s errors.

I’m not quite sure why Lenka thinks it was quite so funny (unless everything else is incredibly serious in Campbelltown). But maybe this is one of those over the top responses that just reflect the Australian way? After all Aussies do have a bit of a reputation, certainly here in the UK, for being outspoken…

Which reminds me about, er, cricket
Digressing briefly to cricket, that outspoken tendency has been rather obvious in the recent Aussie comments on the current Ashes series where the Aussies have been ‘sledging’ members of the England team. One of the recipients, Jonathan Trott, has just been signed off with stress though that may, of course, be nothing to do with the sledging…

But it can’t have helped. And we Jonathans have to stick together*!! So I have a mistletoe-themed proposal to help sort the whole sledging problem once and for all.

The next stage of the series, the 2nd Test, will start at Adelaide on 5th December. And what’s Adelaide famous for? Mistletoe! Well, it should be famous for it. There was last year’s announcement from the University of Adelaide about their research on mistletoe in cancer therapy – but that was using European mistletoe extracts and that’s not what I’m thinking of. In mistletoe circles the area is best-known for its mistletoe conservation/management work – particularly with Box Mistletoe (Amyema miquelii). They even have a Mistletoe Action Group in the Clare and Gilbert Valleys area. Don’t believe me? Read this. 

So… before the 2nd Test why don’t the Australian and England teams just go local, get in with the Adelaide Mistletoe Action Group, find some Box Mistletoe (an oddly apt name for a mistletoe in cricket…!) and just kiss and make up for the Christmas season? (or maybe just a group-hug?)

Maybe I’ll drop a line to Aggers (another Jonathan) to see what he thinks.


*Except for, obviously, the bounder Aitken.


Commercial break:

EMShopTry The English Mistletoe Shop for Grow-Kits, Grow-Kit Gift Cards, Books etc, and mistletoe of course.

Or go direct to Amazon to buy A little Book About Mistletoe – in paperback or Kindle formats

What is the largest mistletoe in the world?

Giant Mistletoe at the Mission Inn in 2012, borrowed from Tante Marianne’s blog “Life, the Universe and everything”

Who has the largest mistletoe? The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa in California thinks it does.

They even claim that the 12-foot-long by eight-foot-wide mistletoe (pictured right) hanging from their entrance is recognised in the Guinness of Records as the world’s largest.

And they should know something about large there – apparently the hotel occupies an entire city block. And they’ve had that giant mistletoe for 2 years now.

Heathrow’s Giant Mistletoe

But lots of other places have claimed to have giant and largest mistletoe in recent years. I’ve covered a few in this blog over the years – including the giant steel mistletoe at RHS Harlow Carr Gardens in 2008 and the giant mistletoe that hung at Heathrow Terminal 5 in 2009 (pic on left). There’s a video of that one at the bottom of this blog entry.

Plus there was the giant mistletoe that Virgin Mobile were using in 2010 in Canada – pictured below right:

Virgin Mobile’s Giant Mistletoe

And that’s just a few. Some of them may even be the same giant mistletoe, just doing the rounds of big corporate marketing departments.

But there’s something wrong with all these giant mistletoes – and you’ve probably guessed it already. The clue is in the wording given by the Mission Inn Hotel – who say it is “the world’s largest man-made mistletoe”.

They are all, of course, complete fakes
You can’t have a ‘man-made mistletoe’ – you can only have a man-made model of some mistletoe…. They’re not actual mistletoe! Of course not – they’re just bits of plastic and metal dreamt up by marketing teams. They’re not really about botanical traditions – but everything to do with (rather naff) commerce.

Does this matter? Well yes, it does, or should do. Kissing under mistletoe is a custom celebrating the peculiarity and properties of the plant – and so kissing under a bolted together collection of green and white painted hardware is insulting that tradition, and the plant.

Maybe there is a real largest mistletoe out there somewhere?
Many mistletoe species do grow quite large – our own Viscum album species can reach several feet across, maybe a metre or two total for large plants. But it, like most other mistletoes, is usually limited by strength or health of the host branch, with that branch eventually falling or failing. Often it doesn’t get to that stage, as the mistletoe itself is fragile with chunks of growth breaking off in high winds, which perhaps provides a sort of fail-safe mechanism for both mistletoe and host branch.

So could a real mistletoe get very large if it wasn’t growing on a branch? Maybe.

A real Giant Mistletoe: Nuytsia floribunda aka Western Australian Christmas Tree, in flower. Pic by D.L.Serventy
A real Giant Mistletoe: Nuytsia floribunda aka Western Australian Christmas Tree, in flower. Pic by D.L.Serventy

And are there any that don’t grow on branches? Yes! A few mistletoes develop from the host root system – so they actually look as they grow out of the ground, like a conventional plant.

Do these grow large? Well, they are known as the Tree Mistletoes. so, yes, fairly large. 

The best-known one, an Australian species, is called Nuytsia floribundabut its common name is, wait for it…  the Western Australian Christmas Tree (yes, really, because it flowers at Christmas!)

So, my nomination for the largest mistletoe, and the one with the best name for Christmas, is Nuytsia floribunda,  It is so big you don’t even have to hang it up – just walk under it.

And I reckon it puts all those promotional giant plastic and metal monstrosities in the shade.

They’re just pendants (and I’m just a pedant).


Here’s that video of the Heathrow ‘Mistletoe’


Commercial break:

EMShopTry The English Mistletoe Shop for Grow-Kits, Grow-Kit Gift Cards, Books etc, and mistletoe of course.

Or go direct to Amazon to buy A little Book About Mistletoe – in paperback or Kindle formats

The mistletoe diary – stories planned for 2013

Buyers collecting their wins at the Mistletoe Auction at Tenbury Wells
Buyers collecting their wins at the Mistletoe Auction at Tenbury Wells

This week sees the first wholesale mistletoe sales in Tenbury Wells, and so it’s about time I started posting more regularly in the Mistletoe Diary.

So, what might be covered in the winter 2013/14 mistletoe season? Current plans include

  • Mistletoe Markets and Fairs – they’re not just in Tenbury you know…
  • A bit more on archaeological aspects of mistletoe
  • A druid ceremony or two
  • This year’s crop of mistletoe-themed Christmas cards
  • Texas – home of much of the Christmas mistletoe used in the USA – but is there or is there not a shortage?
  • 19th century mistletoe harvesting
  • Loki (the Norse deity), mistletoe, and Joanne Harris’ new novel (is mistletoe mentioned?)
  • Mistletoe cancer therapy revisited
  • The Mistletoe Bride (yes, again!), and Kate Mosse’s new story collection
  • Mistletoe rustling, past and present
  • My favourite comic song about mistletoe
  • Plus the largest mistletoe in the world…

Starting soon, though not necessarily in the order above, so do keep watching….


And here’s a brief seasonal commercial:

EMShopLooking for unusual mistletoe-themed presents this Christmas?

Try The English Mistletoe Shop for Grow-Kits, Grow-Kit Gift Cards, Books etc, and mistletoe of course.


Or go direct to Amazon to buy A little Book About Mistletoe – in paperback or Kindle formats

Berry impressive

Loadsa lovely berries - and the Amazon website with the Kindle book behind...
Loadsa lovely berries – and the Amazon website with the Kindle book behind…

Another day, another mistletoe inspection. And this year’s berries are looking better every time – all fully-formed, and full-sized and lots of them. Yet another mistletoe bling year looms, but this time with perfect berries.

And I think it’s berry impressive that I’ve finally (yesterday), after 2 seasons of talking about it, formatted A Little Book About Mistletoe for Kindles and Kindle Apps.

The problem was deciding how best to format the pictures (the original print book was a three column layout with lots of pics, and Kindles display one column and usually hardly any pics) but ’tis now done, and available to buy and download! (I’d like to say other mistletoe books can be chosen, but actually there aren’t any – which means this one is the Best…)

It looks particularly good (I think) on colour kindles, though it is also perfectly presentable on the black’n’white versions too.

Berries whitening nicely…

Mistletoe berries ripening up nicely, 7th November 2013, Gloucestershire
Mistletoe berries ripening up nicely, 7th November 2013, Gloucestershire

In the last week or two there has been some worrying about how late mistletoe berries are whitening up this year – staying a milky-green for too long. But I was out looking at mistletoe yesterday and found lots of almost entirely white berries, so I don’t think we need to worry.

Much depends on which side of the tree you’re standing – on the south-facing, sunny side of the tree, all the mistletoe now has almost-white berries, whilst on the north-facing, shaded side of the tree, the mistletoe still has green ones. Berries on any plants in the middle of the tree are often green too.

Perhaps part of the problem, if there is one, is that some host trees held their leaves longer this year, extending shade longer than normal. But the wind and rain of the last week or so have taken off many of those last few host leaves and so that problem has gone (or is going rapidly). Nothing to stop full ripening now.