Mistletoe ‘crop’ 2018 – looking good, ripening early?

aimage006redAlmost November, so time to look at how mistletoe is looking for Christmas this year. And, again (this is several years in a row now) it’s looking fairly good.  The female plants I’ve looked at are festooned with berries and it would seem we have yet another ‘bumper crop’.

Of course it’s not a crop, not in the conventional sense of something grown for harvest, as most simply grows where it wants to and isn’t actively encouraged.  But in areas and habitats where it grows well – primarily the SW midlands in mature (often over-mature) apple orchards – it can seem like a crop, and certainly can be harvested like one.

One unusual aspect this season is that many of the berries are whitening up already – whereas they normally stay green well into November.  Why, I don’t know, but it does seem consistent with many other berries and fruits ripening earlier than usual this year. So far it’s only whitening from green, the later change from opaque white to translucent white usually only happens in December/January, so it will be interesting to see if that is early this year too.

First wholesale auctions of apple orchard mistletoe are at the end of November – I’ll report then on how the plants have matured, and what prices are like.

The pictures here were all taken in Gloucestershire Orchard Trust’s orchards at Longney, on the banks of the Severn just south of Gloucester, last week.

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Plans for Mistletoe Diary winter 2018/9

mistletoemachineIt’s that time again, again.  With my first mistletoe talk of the season tomorrow (18th Oct) I’m dusting down the Mistletoe Machine and planning what to say, do and report on this season.

Current thoughts, for the blog this season, include:

  • Reviewing the state of the ‘crop’ (though I never really go along with this ‘crop’ concept – which implies someone actually tends it!)
  • Biodiversity news – reports on latest findings on mistletoe and conservation in the UK including…
    • a possible new UK mistletoe insect, albeit one that simply eats one of the existing mistletoe insects
    • new studies showing how UK mistletoe growths can influence (positively) the wider biodiversity around themselves
  • Plus corresponding news about other mistletoes worldwide – their insects, their conservation value etc.
  • A discussion about recent research on mistletoe’s interesting mitochondrial biology – specifically the lack of Complex 1, part of the respiration chain used by all multicellular organisms, except, er, mistletoe… Don’t be put off, this may be sub-cellular biology but it is, in discovery terms, fairly massive.
  • And, maybe, if that goes well, a review of recent research into mistletoe phylogeny – how mistletoe(s) have evolved.
  • Plus a series of tangential discussions about other plant parasites, particularly the Dodders and Toothworts and how they are, or might be, grown in gardens. Yes, I admit some are, visually, somewhat challenging but others are downright pretty parasites which deserve more appreciation
  • And, talking of growing in gardens, there will be updates on growing mistletoe itself (clue – don’t do what the gardening books say – even the RHS still spouts complete bol**cks on this, it really does make me despair!)

More info, as always, on the sites linked at http://mistletoe.org.uk/

And, for growing it, try englishmistletoeshop.co.uk or growmistletoe.co.uk

Mythletoe Growing Myths

Every year. EVERY year.  The media, even the gardening media, peddle rubbishy old nonsensical myths about how to grow mistletoe.  Yesterday BBC Radio 4 Gardener’s Question Time were telling people to make a hole in the bark, stick the seed in and, wait for it…..  seal it in with Sealing Wax!!! An astonishing thing to suggest – not least because who has a stick of Sealing Wax handy these days?

Meanwhile Smallholder Magazine’s January issue is telling people to cut flaps in bark, stick the seeds under and bind it all up with hessian.

These are not unusual – gardening lore for mistletoe is full of these weird, mediaeval-sounding methods.  Even the official RHS ‘Advice’ does so.

And then they say ‘only one in ten seeds germinate’ (RHS, Smallholder magazine) or that successfully growing mistletoe is the ‘Holy Grail’ of gardening (BBC GQT).  In other words they think it is fiendishly difficult.

Well yes, if you follow their methods it is. As their methods will inhibit germination and kill the seeds.

Whereas, if you apply the tiniest piece of common sense and think about how mistletoe spreads naturally – by birds wiping or excreting seeds onto branches, whereupon they germinate and grow – you’ll realise that there’s no alchemy to this.  The seeds just need to be put on a branch.

The seeds need light, need to penetrate bark their own way and need space to grow.  None of which they get if you’ve buried them in an early grave inside the tree. The seeds just need to be put on a branch.

The seeds just need to be put on a branch.

The seeds just need to be put on a branch.

The seeds just need to be put on a branch.

The seeds just need to be put on a branch.

For considered advice visit mistletoe.org.uk/homewp/index.php/grow-your-own/ and for Grow-Your-Own Kits visit englishmistletoeshop.co.uk

Radio Gloucestershire, despite the snow

kateclarkI was talking mistletoe, and mistletoe Grow-Kits, with Kate Clark from Radio Gloucestershire this morning. In the studio in Gloucester, despite the snow.

Can’t add audio direct to the blog but click the link below to go an extract of the mistletoe bit:

http://mistletoe.org.uk/audio/BBCGlos10thDec2017.mp3?_=1

Or, for the whole programme try iplayer here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p001y3bx/episodes/player

And for Grow-Kits themselves try here:  https://englishmistletoeshop.co.uk or here: http://growmistletoe.co.uk

Tenbury Auctions Week #2

Another mistletoe auction this week – and another week with lots of lots.  All very well-berried and mostly nice green foliage, so good stuff.  Some lots were looking a little yellow here and there. The standard yellow auction labels tend to accentuate any yellow in the foliage – which is a little unfortunate!

Prices this week were higher than last week “1st Quality” fetched up to £3 per kg and averaged £1.50, “2nd Quality” fetched up to £1.00 and averaged £0.50.  No great fortunes to be made but reassuring after last week’s low prices.  Full details are on http://nickchampion.co.uk/auctions/holly-and-mistletoe/

A few pictures below – click to enlarge them.

Meanwhile back in Tenbury Wells town centre every shop was still bedecked with bunches of ribboned mistletoe, following the mistletoe festival day last weekend.  And, on  this visit, I had a look at Tenbury’s new Tesco, built on the site of the old mistletoe auction yard (actually the old cattle market but most famous for the mistletoe!).

This Tesco has been 7 years in the making, controversial from the start, with worries about its effect on trade in the rest of the town and, because of the riverside site, the impacts on flooding (a serious problem for Tenbury).  But in May this year it was finally opened, and they’ve included a mistletoe theme around the car park!   All the bollards and the frieze alongside the open ‘market’ area have mistletoe imagery.

Or do they? It’s not very convincing mistletoe! Tesco’s designers need to try harder – they’ve got the paired leaves but not grasped the equally, if not more, distinctive geometric paired stems.  But it’s too late to grumble now – and at least they tried.  I’d give it ‘5/10’ and a ‘See Me After Class’. Make your own mind up from the pictures below:

An accurate design; with paired leaves but also its classic perfectly bifurcating branches

To be fair they’re not alone – despite mistletoe being one of our most visually distinctive plants a lot of seasonal Christmas designers end up designing the distinctiveness out.  It is sometimes quite baffling!

 


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To grow your own distinctive mistletoe plants visit the English Mistletoe Shop and have a look at the Grow-Kits!

 

Mistletoe Diary 2017 season

Not long now until the first mistletoe trading of the season and yes, the plants are looking good yet again!  That’s several years in a row now. Perhaps a bit more variable this season but here are some quick snapshots (click to enlarge them) I took of mistletoe in my mother’s garden earlier today – good material, albeit a little out of reach.

And some nicely offset by holly, though only a male tree so no holly berries. It’s the best mistletoe she’s ever had in this particular apple tree (she did have a lot in another, smaller, tree a few years ago but that one succumbed, unfortunately, to a surfeit of mistletoe.  If only she’d known someone who could have given some management advice. Oh wait…).

Mistletoe Diary this season will be covering the full range of mistletoe stories, especially the weirder ones. Planned content includes the a family mistletoe tradition gift box, complete with sprig of, er, plastic mistletoe, the question of whether hanging up a plastic model of a KFC chicken basket could have the same effect as mistletoe, how best to use the Yellow Pages in a mistletoe encounter, the hazards of dwarf mistletoes in woodland ecosystems and a review of birdlime – a sticky mistletoe by-product of yesteryear used to ensnare birds, kill soldiers and which features, oddly, in literature ranging from Aesop to C. Day Lewis.

And anything else which happens to come along in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in mistletoe in general visit the Mistletoe Pages website and if you’re after mistletoe books, cards or grow-kits have a look at the English Mistletoe Shop website:

 

Mistletoe season almost, but not quite, over

A recent feature about mistletoe, mistletoe berries, seeds and the growing season, from West Country Life, the Western Daily Press Saturday Magazine.
A recent feature about mistletoe, mistletoe berries, seeds and the growing season, from West Country Life, the Western Daily Press Saturday Magazine. Click the image to enlarge it in a new window.

Spring is just about here, which means it’s almost the end of mistletoe berrying – cutting berries for propagation projects and for the mistletoe grow-kit business – for this season.  Which is always something of a relief, after 6 months of life dominated by mistletoe queries, projects and talking, cutting, gathering, planting etc.  Though I expect, after many years experience, that this will, as usual, make for a disconcertingly directionless few weeks at the start of April.

But for the next 2 weeks the season goes on mainly, at this late stage, simply servicing the grow-kit demand, cutting berries to send out to wannabe mistletoe growers around the country. I say cutting, not picking, as we find that picked berries become, through being picked, damaged, with broken skin and oozing berry contents. And those deteriorate quickly, as well as just becoming a glutinous mess if posted en masse. So every berry is actually cut, using those tiny scissors made for florists, to retain a little bit of stalk, thereby keeping the berry intact.

This is done with bunches of mistletoe cut from the tree, so it can be done in relative comfort indoors.  But it does create an interesting new ‘leaning forward’ neck-ache, to add to the ‘craning-upwards’ neck-ache already prevalent after spending hours staring upwards and stretching to cut the mistletoe from the tree with an extending pruning pole.

The seeds in the berries are, by now, itching to germinate, with the hypocotyl primordia showing as a small but prominent bulge on the seed.  Within a few weeks any not planted will simply germinate within the berry, still on the parent plant – in a defiant final , but in their case pointless, effort to survive. By May any berries left on the parent will contain these tragic might-have-been mistletoes, their hypocotyls hopelessly extended and seeking a host branch yet doomed through being stuck, literally, within their own berry.

But this isn’t the fate of the seeds from the berries in the grow-kits – they’re the lucky ones, being sent out to be formally introduced to their new hosts…

Want to try it yourself?
Mistletoe grow-kits are available from the English Mistletoe Shop websites here: http://englishmistletoeshop.co.uk/live/ and here: http://growmistletoe.co.uk/index.html