Jonathan's Mistletoe Diary

December 20, 2015

Watch it! In Datchet. An unscheduled mistletoe road trip

Filed under: Biodiversity,Current Affairs,Media,Mistletoe — Jonathan Briggs @ 8:10 pm
Mistletoe-free, despite best-laid plans

Mistletoe-free breakfast tv sofa, despite best-laid plans

Mistletoe was due to be featured, live, on Sky News’ Sunrise show this morning. But David Cameron’s announcement about police and guns changed their schedules, and so the mistletoe got dropped. Which was a tad annoying, as Dave’s announcement wasn’t exactly exciting and could (surely) have waited until Monday (should I write to Dave to complain?). Whereas I had travelled over to Isleworth (in west London, where the Sky studios are) the night before, ready to take my place on the breakfast sofa brandishing mistletoe. On my very very best behaviour and remembering my lines. All arranged as a final flourish of Morrisons mistletoe promotion of last week.

I was all wound up, ready for action. And, having pulled a muscle in my back, which makes me yelp when sitting down or standing up, I’d even been practising a yelp-free stand-up routine (geddit?) in the mirror in my hotel room, just in case I had to sit or stand live on the telly.

And then I get the call, at 0810; it’s all off. What’s a mistletoe man to do in such circumstances? Dash straight home along the M4? Or make the most of it, regaining some mistletoe focus? I decided to do the latter, and with all the leaves off the host trees now, decide to make it a mistletoe-spotting road trip…

london20thdec2015

A rough plot of the mistletoe road trip. Ignore the lettered way-marks, adding those was the only way to get the plot to work reasonably well on the RAC website! The only big error in this plot is that it says I went (centre of map) via Abingdon, but I really went via Wantage – which is a much straighter route.

Mistletoe is, as I’m sure you know, a western species in Britain, so there isn’t much in the London area. But just upstream from Isleworth there is the biggest mistletoe population you’ll find in greater London, all centred in the Hampton Court and Bushy Park areas. I could have gone to admire that, but I’ve seen it all before. So I thought I’d explore a little further upstream, as there is, on the Thames corridor here, quite a lot more mistletoe in scattered colonies, and it would be interesting to do a drive-by of some of these. So I headed west, on the A4, past Heathrow (with a quick pilgrimage drive through Sipson, the village being bought by BAA), to pick up the Thames again, via more minor roads, at Windsor, where there is plenty of mistletoe locally.

datchetMistletoe-spotting by car is hazardous, especially the unexpected sightings, and my first sightings, well before Windsor near Datchet were a bit of a shock. I didn’t know there were lots of mistletoe-bearing trees on the north bank of the Queen Mother Reservoir. But there are, right alongside the road and continuing into Datchet itself. A continuum of the mistletoe around Windsor, the next town along. The riverside and parkland trees in Windsor had, as expected, lots of mistletoe.  (By the way I took no pictures today, it’s difficult enough spotting and logging mistletoe whilst driving, photos would be a hazard too many, so I’m illustrating this blog with maps).

Heading west from Windsor towards Maidenhead I passed signs to Ascot and Bracknell, other places with mistletoe population outposts, but my road was due west, following (roughly) the Thames, so I ignored the temptation to stray. All these outpost populations have existed for ages – and seem natural. But they are quite likely to be the result of long-forgotten organised plantings, the main clue being that most are in historic formal parkland. And they seem to thrive best along the river corridor (or is that most of the parkland is in the river corridor?).

En route to Maidenhead I spot mistletoe in several places, including near Dorney (where the olympic rowing lakes are) and, on the edge of town, around the M4 link roundabout. Not huge populations like the Datchet/Windsor ones, but locally impressive.

From Maidenhead I head up-river to Cookham, and find some small colonies on the common near the Crown Inn, before crossing the river to Bourne End where there is more scattered here and there, again near the river but seeming to be petering out. Have I come to the end of the mistletoe?

henleyOnwards to Marlow, where I nearly decide to cut and run and return along the M40, but I go right round the A404 roundabout twice and head into town, to be instantly rewarded with mistletoe in the grounds of a school on the north side of the A4155. Plus, after driving a little randomly round the suburbs, quite a few sightings in gardens.

Thence to Henley, following the river quite closely from Mill End, where mistletoe is frequent from Henley Business School’s grounds through to Fawley Court (including a lime avenue with lots of mistletoe). Even beyond this area there were small growths in isolated trees, suggesting active spread…

On towards Wallingford, with surprise, surprise, lots of it in trees and parkland extending up the hill out of Henley, away from the river and a higher altitude, which should, on this side of the country, make mistletoe less likely.  Not much in Wallingford itself though, but a few scattered sightings, including in Brightwell-cum-Sotwell, on the way to Didcot.

Little or no mistletoe by now, but this is compensated for by frequent sightings of Red Kites, often in groups, prospecting near the road for carrion, presumably roadkill. There are so many of these magnificent and distinctive birds on this section of the route that I find myself querying my bird recognition skills. But every time I check I confirm that yes that is a Red Kite, and so is that and that. Spotting Red Kites whilst driving is, by the way, a far more dangerous occupation than spotting mistletoe.

At Didcot there are still lots of Kites, some seeming quite at home in suburbia, a real change from their one-time status as endangered.

Then it’s on to Wantage and Faringdon, eventually getting back to the Thames at Lechlade. No obvious mistletoe in any of these places, and none beyond here either, in Fairford or Cirencester. Thames Head is near Cirencester, so this is the watershed between Thames and Severn. All downhill now to home territory in Stroud on the edge of the Severn Vale.

As I come off Rodborough Common, descending into Stroud on Walkley Hill, the mistletoe starts again, by Rodborough Church. This is proper mistletoe country now – and there’s loads of it round here.

Including a few large sprigs of it that are still on the back-seat of the car, having travelled from here to London and back, hoping for a brief moment on TV. I do hope those sprigs enjoyed the journey, especially the mistletoe-themed return road trip.

(Incidentally, that return journey was almost exactly the same mileage (105 ish)as the outward trip yesterday via Swindon and the M4. Today’s route had a lot of little wiggles, but overall was a more direct line, which compensated almost exactly. Took a lot longer though – much slower roads and frequent stops to make notes)

 

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Coming soon, from Mistletoe Diary:

Mistletoe Surveys

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More Mistletoe Matters – links to mistletoey things to read, buy or do

Grow-Your-Own Mistletoe – kits and gift cards from the English Mistletoe Shop
A Little Book About Mistletoe – printed and Kindle versions
Mistletoe Matters Consultancy – all about mistletoe in Britain
The Mistletoe Pages – even more about mistletoe
Mistletoe Surveys – seeking your input…
Mistletoe Matters on Facebook
Mistletoe Matters on Twitter

December 18, 2015

Getting a feel for GOT’s mistletoe

Filed under: Biodiversity,Current Affairs,Mistletoe,Orchard,social history — Jonathan Briggs @ 6:17 pm
Location map - showing, very roughly outlined in red, the three GOT orchards, one without any orchard left!

Location map – showing, very roughly outlined in red, the three GOT orchards, one without any orchard left!

The riverside Poplar next to the orchards, covered in mistletoe growths.

The riverside Poplar next to the orchards, covered in mistletoe growths.

A quick visit to the Gloucestershire Orchard Trust (GOT)’s newly-acquired orchards at Longney, to admire/assess the mistletoe there. GOT have recently bought two traditional orchards, Long Tyning and Bollow, plus another orchard (now mostly gone) in an adjoining field. All next to the tidal Severn just below Gloucester at Longney.

I’ve known the site for many years, partly as part of a circular walk we like to do along the river, but also because of the mistletoe. There isn’t a huge amount of mistletoe in the orchards themselves (though there is too much in a few of the trees) but the site is dominated, to the mistletoe-aware, by a huge riverside poplar tree festooned with mistletoe.

A view downstream from under the poplar tree

A view downstream from under the poplar tree

This is one of my favourite sites to stand and stare at mistletoe, as it’s always an atmospheric place, right by the river. One of the oddest aspects is that you feel so close to the other side of the river, several miles away by road. Here, with it just 100 metres across the tidal flow, it is like glimpsing an unreachable other world.

An 1884 map of the Longney are, showing the number of orchards along the river bank. The GOT land is again roughly outlined in red.

An 1884 map of the Longney area, showing the number of orchards along the river bank. The GOT land is again roughly outlined in red.

These riverside fields were once dominated by orchards, many of which are now gone. Of those that remain many are now troubled by too much mistletoe and today’s visit was a recce to remind myself of the mistletoe situation in the GOT-owned land, with a view to management needed later in the winter.

One of the trees in the GOT orchards with too much mistletoe - so much that, in this case, it has been blown over, probably because of the mistletoe

One of the trees in the GOT orchards with too much mistletoe – so much that, in this case, it has been blown over, probably because of the mistletoe.

Just upstream, in another old riverside orchard, I’ll be running a mistletoe management workshop for GOT in February, part of an initiative from the Three Counties Traditional Orchards Project.

It is, of course, all a matter of balance – with some remedial management needed to regain a reasonable balance between host tree and mistletoe, and then ongoing management to maintain the situation. I’ll end, for now, with a picture of some of the mistletoe in one of the better-balanced trees – showing just what a healthy tree’s mistletoe can look like – check out those berries!

berriesbollowdec2015

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Coming soon, from Mistletoe Diary:

Mistletoe Surveys

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More Mistletoe Matters – links to mistletoey things to read, buy or do

Grow-Your-Own Mistletoe – kits and gift cards from the English Mistletoe Shop
A Little Book About Mistletoe – printed and Kindle versions
Mistletoe Matters Consultancy – all about mistletoe in Britain
The Mistletoe Pages – even more about mistletoe
Mistletoe Surveys – seeking your input…
Mistletoe Matters on Facebook
Mistletoe Matters on Twitter

Morrisons turns into Mwah-issons for a day

Filed under: Current Affairs,Media,Mistletoe,social history — Jonathan Briggs @ 8:02 am
From @travel_obsessed's twitter feed

From @travel_obsessed’s twitter feed

Is kissing under mistletoe on the decline? Research commissioned by Morrisons supermarkets suggest it might be. Only 14% of those surveyed said they kissed under mistletoe last year, which is not many. And, worse than that, 71% of those under 35 had never been kissed under mistletoe!

So perhaps the custom is slowly dying out, at least among the younger generation. Which would be a shame, as the custom or some variant of it, has probably been practised in the winter months for thousands of years.

Reasons why it might be declining are hard to define, but we could conjecture that a more laid-back attitude to kissing friends and family might make the custom somewhat obsolete in a domestic environment, and, from the opposite point of view, could argue that fear of misuse might have reduced it in more public arenas.

From Morrison's twitter feed

From Morrisons’ twitter feed

But what could be done to encourage it more? Morrisons did their bit yesterday, following up their marketing research with a mistletoe give-away. Free mistletoe in every Morrisons store, all 500+ of them, 50,000 hand-tied sprigs in total. That’s a lot of mistletoe. All supplied to Morrisons’ Flower World subsidiary by Guy Neath, mistletoe wholesaler extraordinaire, of Abberley, Worcestershire.

From Morrison's twitter feed

From Morrisons’ twitter feed

I was involved in the publicity for the project, and spent much of today with Morrisons media team and agency at Media City in Manchester. This mostly involved me talking to radio stations across the country about the origins of the custom and why it should be retained. Some broadcast on the day, others for broadcast over the weekend.

All involved, especially those in store receiving (and giving out) mistletoe seemed deighted – which all adds weight to the view that mistletoe customs should not be allowed to decline – they always make people so happy!

 

 

December 14, 2015

Mistletoe in the media, so far, 2015

Filed under: Current Affairs,Gardening,Media,Mistletoe,Orchard,Science,social history — Jonathan Briggs @ 11:21 am

 

It’s been a surprisingly quiet year, so far, for mistletoe in the media. Though we still have nearly two weeks to go before Christmas, so there’s still plenty of time for more…

Most of the coverage I’ve seen is in local papers. There have been the usual reports about the Tenbury Mistletoe Auctions and Festival in the regional and local press including the Shropshire StarWestern Morning News and Ludlow and Tenbury Wells Advertiser. Local TV covered Tenbury events too – BBC Midlands at the first Auction, ITV Midlands at the last one. Plus, of course, several local radio stations.

Plus, of course, the mistletoe stories outside Tenbury – here in Gloucestershire Cotswold Life magazine ran not one, not Two but THREE mistletoe articles in their December issue. One is a whole page feature by Roddy Llewellyn who, much to my surprise, makes the extraordinary statement that ‘mistletoe (Viscum album) is a fairly unexciting plant visually’. I don’t know what Roddy’s been looking at, but he needs to look again. Viscum album, visually, is one of the most distinctive plants in Europe, with weird symmetrical branching, perfect terminal paired leaves and, in winter, the most amazing crop of glowing white berries. How, Roddy, can you call that unexciting?? Perhaps he should have gone to Specsavers:

The other two articles in Cotswold Life are a quarter-page on the wildlife of holly and mistletoe and half-page about, er, me, to add to my collection of slightly embarrassing profiles.

Further south the Tavistock Times Gazette has a feature on the National Trust’s mistletoe colony at Cotehele, mentioned many times before in this blog. The management of the mistletoe, in the apple orchards there, is the main message, alongside the fact that NT make a bit of cash each year by selling it.  Illustrated with a great picture of garden manager Chris Groves, who is being kissed by a dog (see pic above).

Also, in local papers around the country, several features on local mistletoe surveys, which I will report on in a later post.

Paul Simons' article from Saturday's Times

Paul Simons’ article from Saturday’s Times

National newspaper coverage includes, so far, Monty Don’s usual slightly wrong piece in the Daily Mail, as mentioned in the blog last week), and a recent piece in last Saturday’s Times (behind the paywall online but you can read a scan of paper edition on the left!) talking about how the weather and climate are affecting mistletoe, holly and Christmas trees.

National radio includes that BBC R4 Farming Today piece a couple of weeks ago and an interview I did at the weekend for Dotun Adebayo’s Up All Night programme on BBC R 5 Live. Neither of those are exactly prime-time though – Farming Today is broadcast at 0545 and Dotun’s fascinating current affairs programme is on between 0100 and 0500. Kiss FM’s Breakfast Show are broadcasting a mistletoe feature soon – which might fit in better with most people’s daily schedule…

Meanwhile, in the rest of the World, the usual crop of peculiar mistletoe stories have appeared, including a new Guinness Book of Records World Record for the number of couples kissing under mistletoe at the same time. 201 couples kissed for at least 10 seconds under sprigs of real mistletoe from Mistletoeing.com, a US-based mistletoe supplier (of, of course, US mistletoes, Phoradendron species, very unlike the European Viscum. [note to Roddy Llewellyn, US mistletoe species ARE unremarkable to look at, are these what you where thinking of when you wrote your article?]).

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Coming soon, from Mistletoe Diary:

Mistletoe Surveys

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More Mistletoe Matters – links to mistletoey things to read, buy or do

Grow-Your-Own Mistletoe – kits and gift cards from the English Mistletoe Shop
A Little Book About Mistletoe – printed and Kindle versions
Mistletoe Matters Consultancy – all about mistletoe in Britain
The Mistletoe Pages – even more about mistletoe
Mistletoe Surveys – seeking your input…
Mistletoe Matters on Facebook
Mistletoe Matters on Twitter

December 7, 2015

Too little mistletoe?

Filed under: Current Affairs,Gardening,Media,Mistletoe,Orchard,Science,social history — Jonathan Briggs @ 8:43 pm

Mistletoe distribution in the UK – only really common in the south-west midlands

It’s all very well talking about the ‘bumper crop’ and too much mistletoe if you’re in a mistletoe-rich area (i.e Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire, and Somerset) but most of the UK has very little mistletoe. So the situation across most of the country is, as usual, too little mistletoe.

Why so much in some areas over others? It’s all to do with mistletoe’s preferred climate, which means it thrives and spreads naturally in key counties but only grows, and rarely spreads, if introduced to other areas. It’s a bit mysterious, as it will readily grow, if encouraged, virtually anywhere, it just doesn’t spread far. There is evidence that spread is increasing, and that distribution patterns may be changing, but that’s another story, covered at other times in this blog.

For now I just want to think about where and how it grows, and how you can encourage it if you want to have it. One very significant advantage of growing it in an area where it doesn’t spread naturally is that you don’t need to worry about controlling it. In its key areas it can become a pest – but outside those areas it’s a (relatively) well-behaved curiosity.

A young seedling, about three years-old, just about to start growing fast, by doubling the branch number every year.

A young seedling, about three years-old, just about to start growing fast, by doubling the branch number every year.

Some, possibly most, of the isolated populations outside mistletoe’s key areas, will have been deliberately grown, often established centuries ago in parkland locations by wealthy landowners. Whether they knew how to do it or whether they took decades over it is not recorded. I suspect some of them took decades. Even today gardening experts often advise that mistletoe is hard to establish and that they’ve been trying for years without success. That would be because, sorry garden experts, they’re doing it wrong. It is easy when you know how.

Monty Don, one of our most popular garden gurus, has been giving somewhat incorrect advice on mistletoe for years, and I’ve taken him to task in this blog on more than one occasion. So it was interesting to see, in his piece for the Daily Mail a couple of days ago, that he’s giving slightly better advice now – he’s obviously been reading it up!

But even so he still gets a lot wrong (thinks mistletoe grows to the centre of the branch, thinks mistletoe kills off individual branches along with itself, etc etc). One very interesting point he makes is that his orchard trees, planted twenty years ago in mistletoe country, have only recently started growing mistletoe. This observation can be used to make two important points – firstly that mistletoe does spread surprisingly slowly from tree to tree, even in mistletoe country, if left to itself. And secondly, that if he had actually planted it (perhaps he did but with the wrong method?) he could have 20-year old mistletoe plants by now. He’s missed out on so much mistletoe!

A germinating seed, securely stuck to the bark, and seeding out two (twin) seedlings (seeds are often polyembryonic)

A germinating seed, securely stuck to the bark, and sending out two (twin) seedlings (seeds are often polyembryonic).

Which brings me back to the point that mistletoe is fairly easy to grow if you know how. The primary stumbling block for most people is that they plant seeds at Christmas. Understandable, as that’s when they have mistletoe. But just because that’s when we pick mistletoe it doesn’t mean the berries/seeds are ripe. It’s being picked and sold for decoration, not for propagation. If you want to grow it you need ripe berries with ripe seeds picked off the plant in early spring…

The other main problem for many would-be mistletoe growers, is that they plant the seed ‘in the tree’ as if they are planting a seed in soil. Indeed many gardening texts and gurus insist that you should cut a flap or hole in the bark and stick the seed into it. Understandable if you’re conditioned to thinking that seeds need to be buried. But completely bonkers for mistletoe, if you give it just a moment’s thought. Natural spread, which obviously works fine (otherwise there would be no mistletoe at all), is by birds wiping/excreting the sticky seeds onto a tree. They don’t cut holes and ‘bury’ them, so why should we? It’s obviously not required – and, in biological terms, is a disaster. The seeds need light to germinate and grow, so ‘burying’ them in the bark is a sure-fire way to kill them off. And there’s a reason why they’re sticky – it’s to enable them to stick to the host bark. They don’t need wedging into cracks or holes.

So, there you have it. Too little mistletoe? Get out there and plant some! And do it right!

For detailed advice on techniques have a look at the Mistletoe Pages website here

For a Grow-Your-Own Kit try the English Mistletoe Shop here or the Grow Mistletoe website here

And, if you want a GYO workshop, or to have your planting done for you, have a look at my Mistletoe Matters consultancy site here and here.

December 4, 2015

Too much mistletoe?

Filed under: Current Affairs,Gardening,Mistletoe,Orchard,Science,social history — Jonathan Briggs @ 7:41 pm

Can you have too much mistletoe? I don’t mean hanging in the hallway – where garlands of the stuff might be needed if you’ve a high-maintenance kisser in the house. I mean in the tree, where it grows as a parasite. Can there be too much there?

standishoct2015

A overly mistletoe-laden apple tree in October this year – no leaves, no apples, and the mistletoe turning brown. This tree had been struggling for a few years, but the mistletoe was mostly too high to harvest or manage, so little could be done. I’m not surprised it has finally succumbed – but it is very sad, as it was the best tree in the orchard.

The answer of course (as I’ve said many times before in this blog) is that yes, a tree can have too much mistletoe, and if left unchecked both tree and mistletoe will die. Sounds bad, but actually it’s good, as it gives an incentive to the tree-owner to cut some each year, and hang it up for Christmas! Keeping up the tradition of kissing under mistletoe helps keep both mistletoe and host happy – a win-win situation all round. Happy tree, happy mistletoe, happy kissing. What could possibly go wrong?

Sadly, quite a lot, as many of the old apple orchard trees that have a lot of mistletoe in them are getting more neglected, so they have more mistletoe, and they die more quickly. What we need, in this situation, is an incentive to cut more mistletoe…

The best incentive might be, perversely, a really good year for mistletoe – i.e. a year when there are loadsa big pearly-white berries, as there is a better market for it when it’s really attractive, so more incentive to harvest it for sale. And this season it is looking like a really good year – so we might see more reaching the shops this season, which would mean better mistletoe management too.

More being cut isn’t always the answer though, as mistletoe does have separate male and female plants. That means that 50% of mistletoe plants won’t have any berries – because they’re boy mistletoe, and only girl mistletoe has berries…

And that means, if you’re in an apple orchard cutting mistletoe for market, that you should not ignore the berry-less growths, even though they have no commercial value (no-one wants to buy mistletoe with no berries). For the sake of the tree, and the mistletoe, you should cut back the berry-less growths too, even if it does double the workload. Otherwise, not only will the male plants grow unchecked, but next year the proportion of berried plants will be fewer, and that proportion will get progressively fewer every year you fail to cut the male too. Until one year you give up, saying to yourself there’s no decent mistletoe in this orchard any more (and it used to be so good…)

So mistletoe harvesters, remember to cut the male plants too, you really do have to be cruel to be kind to it, and if you do cut both sexes equally you’ll have your mistletoe, and your tree, indefinitely.

Don’t believe me? Want to find out how to do it? Why not go on one of the Three Counties Traditional Orchard Project (TCTOP)’s Mistletoe Training Days? The next one is very soon, on 11th December, and is being hosted by the TCTOP Partner Colwall Orchard Group – details are available at colwallorchardgroup.org/events/index.html

If you miss that one there will be others, including one hosted by TCTOP Partner Gloucestershire Orchard Trust (and run by me) in February 2016. Date to be announced soon.

And, if you are an orchard owner with mistletoe, why not take part in Mistletoe Matters’ survey on mistletoe management in orchards – you’ll find the details of this and other surveys at surveys.mistletoe.org.uk – I’ll be saying more about that particular project in another blog entry soon…

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And, coming soon, from Mistletoe Diary, the opposite problem:

Too little mistletoe?

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More Mistletoe Matters – links to mistletoey things to read, buy or do

Grow-Your-Own Mistletoe – kits and gift cards from the English Mistletoe Shop
A Little Book About Mistletoe – printed and Kindle versions
Mistletoe Matters Consultancy – all about mistletoe in Britain
The Mistletoe Pages – even more about mistletoe
Mistletoe Surveys – seeking your input…
Mistletoe Matters on Facebook
Mistletoe Matters on Twitter

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