Jonathan's Mistletoe Diary

November 9, 2016

‘Training’ mistletoe, and thoughts on Churchyards

Filed under: Biodiversity,Current Affairs,Gardening,Religion,social history,Travel — Jonathan Briggs @ 2:28 pm

A day out in London last week, at a conference discussing churchyard trees. Not about mistletoe.  But a surprising number of mistletoe angles…


A rather blurred picture of some rail-side mistletoe

Starting with the journey there – as I caught the train in from Windsor (the conference was at Waterloo, an easy commute from Windsor) and Windsor is a mistletoe hotspot.  Regular readers will, obviously(!), know this already as I mentioned it last year when reporting on a drive up the Thames valley.

But this was my first time on the railway from Windsor Riverside to Waterloo, and I was keen to find out what mistletoe could be spotted by train.  ‘Training’ plants is a popular pastime with a few (somewhat dedicated) botanists; basically checking on what species you can spot by looking out of the window. It’s more interesting than it sounds, as railway corridors support a variety of species, with some unusual ones in the well-drained habitat amongst the gravel ballast next to the track.  The challenge is to identify them whilst passing at speed…


Nice pic, but just missed the mistletoe! (off to the left somewhere)

But on this journey I was looking at the wider landscape, trying to spot mistletoe in the riverside trees (the line runs close to the Thames for much of the first section).  Sure enough there were several sections with significant mistletoe colonies – and I, foolishly perhaps, decided to try recording them using a phone camera. Of course, by the time I had spotted a colony and got the phone pointing at it, we had moved on several hundred metres…  And on the way back again in the evening it was dark.

Meanwhile, at the conference, churchyard trees and the challenges of managing them, were discussed at length.  Presentations were made by a mixture of tree experts and clergy, with a general underlying theme that more could and should be done to manage, conserve and plant more churchyard trees, with a particular emphasis on seeing them as part of the individual church’s history.  Indeed, in the case of many of our churchyard yew trees, the argument could be seen as the opposite; many of our older churchyard yews clearly pre-date their particular church’s foundation (some are 2000 years-old), so it is how the church relates to the tree, not the other way round.


Typical churchyard mistletoe – growing on a lime tree in an open situation.

Where does mistletoe fit in to this? Two ways – firstly as another, like yew, evergreen with a long history in tradition and religion, so it has relevance at least.  Secondly, mistletoe loves churchyard trees – they are a perfect habitat, being well-spaced. The mix of native and exotic species often ensures at least one suitable host.

So was mistletoe mentioned? Er, no. Not at all!  Apart from by me in conversations over coffee and lunch.  But those discussions were useful, I think, highlighting the value of churchyard tree for mistletoe and the potential for mistletoe to be deliberately planted as part of a tree management project.  It always becomes a talking point, particularly outside its main geographical area.  Good for biodiversity too.  And, last but not least, it has religious relevance.

Not necessarily the right religion – but that’s why it’s a talking point…


growkitmontage1Mistletoe season looms… and if you want to grow your own talking point have a look at the Mistletoe Grow-Kits from the English Mistletoe Shop.

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




  1. Hi Jonathan have you ever seen mistletoe growing in a holly tree ?? Guy Neath

    Comment by Guy neath — November 9, 2016 @ 3:31 pm | Reply

    • Hi Guy, I’ve not seen it growing myself but am aware of a few mistletoe on holly sightings recorded in the 1990s mistletoe survey. Holly is, obviously, quite an unusual host, not least because it is evergreen and so may deprive mistletoe of winter light a little too much. I suspect it would grow relatively easily if encouraged by deliberate planting, but I’ve never tried it myself. Regards, Jonathan

      Comment by Jonathan Briggs — November 9, 2016 @ 4:17 pm | Reply

  2. Hi Jonathan, I have tried unsuccessfully to grow mistletoe up here in the Highlands.

    The only time I have ever seen it growing was on a train journey to Brighton. It made
    my trip I can tell you. Got funny looks from the other passengers while trying to take a photograph

    Comment by Mairearaid MacDonell — November 9, 2016 @ 4:16 pm | Reply

    • Hi Mairearaid, what are trying to grow it on, and where? It can grow at fairly high latitudes – but getting it started is a bit hit and miss and it doesn’t like much altitude at high latitudes. There is, I think, some growing near Dornoch and a bit further south near Nairn – both of which may be ok because of relatively low altitude.
      Re taking photos from the train – yes, you do get funny looks!

      Comment by Jonathan Briggs — November 9, 2016 @ 9:47 pm | Reply

  3. Nice bit of mistletoe on train from Kings Lynn to London Kings cross. (Seen at Kings Lynn, Downham Market, Cambridge, Royston, Baldock, Letchworth, Hitchin, & Hatfield) Rod Chapman.

    Comment by spongman — November 10, 2016 @ 4:22 pm | Reply

    • Hi Rod, Good to know you’re training mistletoe too. I travelled from Cheltenham down to Tiverton by train today – loadsa mistletoe on that route (but that’s not really surprising!), Regards Jonathan

      Comment by Jonathan Briggs — November 10, 2016 @ 5:34 pm | Reply

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