Jonathan's Mistletoe Diary

February 5, 2017

Tis the season to be Mistletoe-seeding

Filed under: Gardening,Mistletoe,Orchard,Science — Jonathan Briggs @ 8:45 pm
berriesfromwoodchester

Yesterday in an orchard near Stroud, cutting excess mistletoe from apple trees and collecting some berries for planting. A unseasonally warm day.

Christmas may be the time we admire mistletoe and its white berries, but February and March are when mistletoe berries are properly ripe. The Christmas tradition is two months early – NOW is the time to have a look at those berries and their lovely sticky green seeds.

Which is precisely what we’re doing here at Mistletoe Matters, combining some mistletoe management work with some mistletoe propagation work – every berried branch that’s cut at this time of year has the potential to create many more mistletoe plants.

In the long-term. Those berries and their seeds may be ripe just now, but the germinating seeds will take several years to produce a decent-sized mistletoe plant. First and second year growths are so tiny that they are easily overlooked.

I regularly get enquiries from people who planted mistletoe seeds a couple of years ago and assume they’ve failed, as they don’t have a ‘big’ mistletoe bush yet. And emails from people who have suddenly noticed mistletoe growing in their tree, the one they planted seeds on 4 or more years previously. What a coincidence they say! Er, no, that’s entirely to be expected, I reply.

The next few weeks really are the second phase of the mistletoe season for mistletoe enthusiasts, after a (well-earned) break in January. I’ll be posting more soon…

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

December 18, 2016

Turdus turds – of pure mistletoe

Filed under: Biodiversity,Gardening,Mistle Thrush,Mistletoe,Orchard — Jonathan Briggs @ 7:01 pm

‘Turdus’ – the latin name for thrushes, can sound a little rude. But it’s simply the latin word for thrush and therefore perfectly apt. Nothing to do with ‘turd’, which means excrement. But making the link is inevitable – and many people snigger when told that a Blackbird’s latin name is Turdus merula, a Song Thrush Turdus philomelos, a Redwing Turdus iliacus, a Fieldfare Turdus pilaris or a Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus.  So much turdus!

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Hitting the spot – a pure mistletoe turd where all the seeds have hit the branch, albeit onto rather unsuitably thick bark. Note the green colour of the seeds, already actively photosynthetic.

That last one, the Mistle Thrush, actually produces quite important turds, so its turdiness seems particularly apt.  And those significant turds are all about, you guessed it, mistletoe.  That’s where the viscivorus part of its latin name comes from – it is ‘Viscum-eating’ and Viscum album is mistletoe.

A Mistle Thrush eating mistletoe berries produces mistletoey turds – sticky strings of semi-digested mistletoe berries complete with completely undigested mistletoe seeds, just waiting to germinate on a host tree branch.

The turds of Turdus viscivorus are especially critical for mistletoe to spread. This is particularly so because very few other birds seem to want to eat mistletoe – the berries aren’t brightly coloured so seem less attractive, and any bird that does try one will find it contains one inconveniently large seed (which won’t be digested) set in a mucilaginous glue that can mess up a dainty beak for some time. Mistletoe berry eaters have to be determined – they are effectively eating glue – and not many birds want to do that.

Turd production is just the first step for mistletoe seeds of course – which rely on their remaining (post-digestion) natural stickiness to attach to a branch.  Mistletoe seeds need that branch – and if the turd misses a branch the seeds are doomed.

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A more typical mistletoe turd – with most seeds dangling helplessly in mid-air on a thin strand of sticky mucilage.

Even when the turd hits a branch most seeds will fail, as they will dangle uselessly below it in a string of sticky mucilage. The process is, literally, a very hit and miss affair.  But it does give rise to yet another name – ‘mistletoe’ itself.  This is usually attributed to the Old English word ‘misteltan’, a combination of ‘mistel’ meaning Dung (or turd!) and ‘tan’ meaning twig.  Literally Dung on a Twig.  Aren’t names wonderful?

If you want to see some good Mistle Thrush turds, now is the time to start looking! Mistletoe berries tend not to be eaten in quantity until mid-winter onwards (sometimes remaining uneaten well into spring) so the season has only just started, but is well underway.  I was out in an apple orchard near home this afternoon and saw several fresh mistletoe-laden turds, probably from Mistle Thrushes but maybe from Fieldfares or Redwings – other thrushes who behave in a similar way.

Be wary though.  A Mistle Thrush guards its berry patch and only strays a few metres away for a quick crap so it can return asap. And it usually travels exactly the same few metres.

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An active thrush toilet zone – lots of sticky strings of mistletoe seeds often dangling at head height!

Which leads to the creation of a Thrush toilet area – a part of the tree where the thrush craps repeatedly. These areas can be hazardous – with multiple strings of sticky excreted mistletoe seeds hanging down – and almost invisible until you walk into them…  Sticky thrush turds in your face are not pleasant!  So do look where you’re going if you’re wandering around a mistletoe-laden apple orchard in the next few weeks.

It is worth noting, by the way, that the common name, ‘Mistle Thrush’, is thought to be an Anglicisation of the latin name – and not really a traditional name for the bird at all.  More traditional names include Storm Cock, Char Cock and Skirl Cock – which relate to the species’ harsh call, in all weathers, not to its eating habits.  And actually, when you think about it, why should it be named after its mistletoe eating at all? Particularly in Britain.  ‘Mistle Thrushes’ occur all over Britain, and eat all sorts of berries.  But mistletoe has a fairly restricted distribution in the sw midlands.  Most British Mistle Thrushes will never, therefore, experience any mistletoe-eating. Which seems odd, bearing in mind mistletoe’s apparent dependence on the thrushes…

Next time in Mistletoe Diary – re-visiting the story of the Eastern European Blackcaps – birds which migrate over here in increasing numbers (regardless of any referendum!) and eat our mistletoe berries, in a completely different way to thrushes…

gyoYou don’t have to excrete berries to grow mistletoe!  You can just try a Grow Kit from the English Mistletoe Shop….

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 13, 2016

Mistletoe media 2016, so far…

Filed under: Biodiversity,Current Affairs,Gardening,Media,Mistletoe,Science,social history — Jonathan Briggs @ 9:40 am
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Morrisons mistletoe promo – I haven’t noticed the ‘mwah-issons’ catch-phrase this year, maybe they’ve dropped it.

A quiet season so far, with Morrisons, giving out mistletoe in their supermarkets again, decisively in the lead (nothing to do with me – I helped their media campaign in 2015 but haven’t been asked back!).  Their campaign was trending all over the place yesterday – getting promoted in lots of local newspapers across the UK, plus a few national (e.g. the Mirror) and going viral on bargain-hunting websites, including Martin Lewis’ MoneySaving Expert and on HotUKDeals.  Those have a lot of followers.  But their angle is about getting free mistletoe, whereas Morrisons, by giving it out free, claim their story is about continuing the kissing tradition (they commissioned a survey last year that said only 14% of people kissed under mistletoe, and 71% under 35 never had). 

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Another Morrisons promo pic – but do they they provide this service in all their cafes?

Morrisons story is of course also, and very much so, about getting people into their shops – so going viral online suggests significant success.

Part of the Morrisons story, as reported in the papers, is that mistletoe is very expensive this season, due to the ‘mild winter’ last year reducing the amount available.  This is, of course, rubbish.  There’s plenty of mistletoe about, with lots of berries, but the high prices at the first of the Tenbury Wells mistletoe auctions this year caught media attention, so an explanation was invented (I’m not sure by whom but I have my suspicions!) and the story has stuck.

markadamstelegraphOther mistletoe media in Britain has included the usual ‘man up a ladder’ pic in the Daily Telegraph (this year featuring Mark Adams) way back on 22nd November.  If you can read the caption (sorry, only have a low-res version) on the pic you’ll notice Mark is saying the mild spring means this could be one of the best crops ever. Compare that to the current round of nonsensical ‘mistletoe shortage due a mild winter’ mentioned above.

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‘Mistletoe is traditional’ says the Sun – but their picture isn’t traditional mistletoe… 

Talking of inaccuracy, what’s the Sun’s coverage been like? Well, they’ve run a big feature about mistletoe traditions, a little light-weight but in keeping with the paper, and illustrated with a big pic of berryless US mistletoe,  – without noticing that it’s not the right species and without the crucial white berries – and so missing the point entirely (ironic, as their picture caption says ‘Mistletoe is Traditional’).

The Sun, and others, have also run a story about Poundland stores selling a Christmas decoration mis-spelling mistletoe as misteltoe.  This spelling error was spotted by 6 year-old Maisie from Norfolk, not by Sun reporters.

Much more accurately, in the Times, Matthew Oates has covered mistletoe in the Nature Notebook column, referring to the abundant crop this year and discussing its interesting bird and insect associations.  I’m mentioned too, but somewhat bizarrely described as being responsible for the abundance because I’ve ‘inspired recording effort’ (i.e. promoted the spotting and recording of mistletoe for ecological databases). I assume something got lost in a sub-edit – as recording effort doesn’t make abundance, it merely records it.  And, if I was to be really pedantic, I would point out there has been no major recording effort for mistletoe since the 1990s, twenty years ago. That was certainly championed by me, but it was some time ago!

Meanwhile, across the pond, there is the usual rash of lightweight and trivial mistletoe stories.  The only one I’ll mention here is the announcment that, not surprisingly, Six Flags did establish a new mistletoe kissing record. Read all about on Fox News.

(So far this season I’ve heard no reports of mistletoe being hung on tube trains – so awkward for commuters last year…)

 

gyoMore 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 10, 2016

Growing Your Own – not yet… later!

Filed under: Current Affairs,Gardening,Media,Mistletoe,Science — Jonathan Briggs @ 8:25 pm

 

2yearIt’s that time of year again. When people (and the media, today it was BBC Suffolk’s turn) ask, how do I grow mistletoe? And expect to be told ‘how to do’ details now, at Christmas-time, as that’s when they have mistletoe.

But no, now is not the time for planting.  Planting time is a couple of months away – in February, March or even April.  When most people don’t have any mistletoe…

Now is also the time when enquiries come in from people who have started growing mistletoe and now, 10 months later, are worried the tiny growths they have are too small. But no again, tiny is exactly correct for the first 12-24 months.

germinationSo, with these enquiries in mind, and at risk of telling regular Mistletoe Diary readers stuff they’ve heard before, here’s a summary of how to grow it and what to expect in the first few years…

Firstly, as always, ignore the advice in most gardening books and from most garden ‘experts’ to cut a nick in host bark and place seeds under this or under tape.  It’s unnecessary, counter-productive and kills most of the seeds. It’s also, probably, why most of that advice is usually accompanied by a comment that the seeds rarely grow. Of course they rarely grow if you cut the bark or hide the seeds – you’re killing them

squeezeThe way to grow mistletoe successfully is to mimic bird sowings – the seeds, covered with sticky mucilage from the berry, are adapted to stick to the outside of the host bark, exactly as they would be if wiped or excreted by a bird.

And they are photosynthetic – they need light to survive – so they must be on the outside of the bark.

sowAnd er, basically, that’s it; stick the seeds, using their own glue, to the host bark.  And wait…

It’s slightly more complex than that of course – you need to choose the right sort of host and the right size of branch with, ideally, relatively thin but intact bark. But basically you just glue the seed on.  And in the right season – February to early April.

And, as above, wait…  For some time.  Germination itself, in February and March, is fairly fast, with the seed sending out one, two or even three tiny green shoots (many seeds have tripletsmultiple embryos and so give rise to twin or triplet plants).  These shoots bend round to meet the bark within a few weeks and then –  nothing seems to happen for about 12 months.  Sometimes longer.

But things are happening out of sight – the shoot has penetrated shallowly, just as far as the host cambial (growth) cells, and is busy establishing connections for water supply and persuading the cambial cells that it, the mistletoe, is a legitimate part of the tree. This takes some time.

twinsSo, after 12 months your mistletoe shoot may look just the same as it did at 3 months.  But, as long as it is still green it is doing ok.  You just have to be patient. Even when it does start to grow a little, in year 2 or 3, it may only produce a couple of leaves. But once it is really established every shoot will divide into two every year, and growth will soon seem very rapid.

gyoThere’s more advice on the Mistletoe Pages here – and, if you want more help or just don’t think you can get mistletoe in the spring, you can try using one of the Mistletoe Grow-Kits from the English Mistletoe Shop – available from the main site here, or our special grow mistletoe shop here.

And, if you want to give a kit at Christmas you could give one of the Grow-Kit Gift Cards – made for you to give at Christmas and for the recipient to redeem, for a Grow-Kit, in spring.  Full details of all these are on the main shop page here, or the grow mistletoe shop page here.

November 27, 2016

Urban mistletoe – normal or abnormal?

Filed under: Current Affairs,Gardening,Media,Mistletoe,Orchard,social history,Travel — Jonathan Briggs @ 6:59 pm
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The BBC R Glos Mistletoe Hunt – on a maple tree round the back of the Shirehall (Google Streetvew pic)

 

Last week I joined a brief, early morning, urban mistletoe hunt with BBC Radio Gloucestershire. They had spotted mistletoe on trees in central Gloucester and wanted to discuss whether this was unusual.  The short answer to that is, no, not at all unusual here in Gloucestershire where mistletoe is common, but both yes and no elsewhere in the UK.  It all depends on where you are.

[The hunt was broadcast during Mark Cummings’ show on 23rd November. You can hear the whole programme on iPlayer here – but only for a few weeks and anyway the mistletoe is scattered throughout the programme. A bootleg edit, with just the the mistletoe-laden bits, can be heard here]

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BBC R Glos Mistletoe Hunt – trees with mistletoe in Brunswick Square (Google Streetview pic)

 

The first thing to understand about mistletoe in urban locations is that, in theory at least, trees in urban areas are ideal for it. You might think, like the BBC Glos reporters did initially, that mistletoe is a plant of the wider and natural countryside. But, actually, mistletoe’s need is for isolated trees – trees well-spaced away from others.  Natural woods may have a lot of trees, but those trees are close together – so woodland trees are not good mistletoe hosts.  The trees of man-made habitats – orchards, hedgerows, roadsides are much better for mistletoe as they are set apart.  And, therefore, trees in the urban environment – street and garden trees – are ideal for it.  It should not be unusual.

Nevertheless most people seem to think it is unusual in towns – possibly for one or both of two reasons.  One being that mistletoe is generally only found in quantity in the south-west midlands, so is not common enough to spot – in urban or rural environments – across most of the UK.  The other reason is observation – people don’t look up enough! In the wider countryside you can spot mistletoe from miles away – with the distinctive aerial growths showing up in tall trees across the landscape.  In towns the landscape is much closer, hemmed in by buildings, so you don’t get that wide view that will show mistletoe a long way off.  You may only be able to see it when close to it, and then only by physically looking straight up!

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Cheltenham’s street trees have lots of mistletoe – obvious even in summer (Google Streetview pic)

 

Here in the Severn Vale of Gloucestershire mistletoe is common everywhere – rural or urban – and very obvious in both Gloucester and Cheltenham. Especially in Cheltenham, where there are huge amounts in many of the street trees. Probably too much actually – but that’s a story for another time.

Outside of the vale, but still in mistletoe country, there are many other mistletoe towns; one particularly favorite of mine is Malvern, where there are scattered colonies throughout. Much further afield there are thriving colonies in and around Richmond (SW London), Cambridge, parts of Oxford, and even small areas of Edinburgh (and even Dublin!) well outside mistletoe’s natural range.  Urban mistletoe thrives – and urban gardens could even become, as rural orchards decline, the primary habitat for mistletoe in Britain.


growkitmontage1If you want to try getting it growing in your garden try a Mistletoe Grow-Kit from the English Mistletoe Shop

More mistletoey links:

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

November 15, 2016

Mistletoe in The Quercy Local

Filed under: Current Affairs,Gardening,Media,Mistle Thrush,Mistletoe,social history,Travel — Jonathan Briggs @ 9:37 pm

The French have a lot more mistletoe than we do here in Britain – their climate is better suited to it, and it is a common sight in many regions (though also, as in Britain, utterly absent from some parts).  That abundance doesn’t lessen its mysteriousness though – there are many French traditions and customs relating to le Gui. It was once (and possibly still is) especially valued as a un Porte-Bonheur, a Good Luck Charm.

But our kissing tradition, traditionally a feature of English-speaking countries, is widespread in France too these days, possibly masking some of their other traditions.  It all gets a bit confusing.

quercylocalNow that we Brits, at least à ce moment (Brexit clouds the future a little), have a tendency to go and live in France, there are, here and there, some English-language magazines.  One of which is The Quercy Local , which covers the ‘Quercy’ region of SW France (parts of the Lot, Lot et Garonne, Tarn et Garonne and Dordogne departments).

Their Winter Issue for 2016/17 has mistletoe on the cover and includes a rather good mistletoe feature, by editor Anna Atkinson, plus an article on mistletoe’s specialist berry-eating birds, the Mistle Thrush and the Blackcap, by Martin George.

And, in their ‘Seasonal Romantic Gifts’ section, they feature my Mistletoe Book – and Grow-Kits – both available from, as always, the English Mistletoe Shop.  Thanks, Quercy Local!

Interested in leafing through it (there’s a lot more than just mistletoe, and much inspiration if you’re a Francophile)?  You can read it online here.

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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

November 11, 2016

A visit to Cotehele’s Christmas Garland, and to see their mistletoe too

Final stages of hanging the garland

Final stages of hanging the garland

Cotehele House, the National Trust estate on the Tamar estuary, is famous for its Christmas Garland; a 60-foot long flower-filled decoration they hang in the Hall each year. The dried flowers used are all grown in the estate garden, where there is also, as I’ve probably mentioned before, a large colony of mistletoe in the apple orchard. Mistletoe is fairly rare in this part of the south-west, so the mistletoe is significant. The orchard is valuable too – extended 10 years ago to include a new ‘Mother Orchard’ of historic local fruit varieties, conserving that genetic resource.

The garland takes over a week to make, and today was the last preparation day, ending with it being hung for display to visitors over the next few weeks. And, as we happened to be in the area, we called in to have a look…

The end of the garland, complete with mistletoe

The end of the garland, complete with mistletoe

This year is special – as the garland tradition is 60 years-old. By the time we got there today it was completed and in the air, with just some final adjustments from a scaffold tower.  Chris Groves, NT’s senior gardener at Cotehele (and orchard guru), had just cut one of the finishing touches – a ball of mistletoe from the orchard, to be hung over the door at the end of the garland.  This year’s theme is white – so fits particularly well with the mistletoe.  Or will do when the berries are fully ripe and white – the berries on today’s bunch were still a little green, but Chris will be replacing the mistletoe with fresh, riper-berried, material in the run-up to Christmas.

Afterwards we had a quick look around the orchards – the established one in the main garden, where there is a lot of mistletoe, and the newer Mother Orchard adjoining it.  There was more mistletoe than I remember from my last visit – but Chris is keeping it under control.  He cuts the berried (female) plants to sell in the Cotehele shop each Christmas and manages the unberried (male) plants when doing annual tree pruning.  Here are some pics of the old orchard, with its mistletoe:

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Some bird-sown mistletoe plants have been appearing in a few of the Mother Orchard trees, but he is pruning that out entirely, at least for now, as those are still fairly small trees.  Some, on MM106 rootstock, will stay small-ish but others, on M25 rootstock, will grow to standard tree size and be very suitable for mistletoe.  That’s in the long-term of course – but it does mean that the mistletoe colony at Cotehele looks set to survive well into the future, along with the local apple varieties too.  Some pics of the new orchard below:

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PS for my niece Harriet, if she's reading this, apols for not calling in, all a bit last-minute and anyway you wouldn't want to catch our colds...

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

 

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…

windsor1

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…

windsor2

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.

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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…

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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

 

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.

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