Jonathan's Mistletoe Diary

October 16, 2017

Swinging mistletoe

Filed under: Mistletoe — Jonathan Briggs @ 7:16 pm

So I go out to look at how this year’s berries are doing (quite well, lots of them) and to take some pictures.

But it’s Storm Ophelia today – and the mistletoe is well wild. So no pictures, just a rubbish video:

(actually it was a half-decent video – until I uploaded it to YouTube. Now it’s much worse. Thanks YouTube!)

 

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March 14, 2017

Mistletoe season almost, but not quite, over

Filed under: Current Affairs,Gardening,Media,Mistletoe,Orchard — Jonathan Briggs @ 5:01 pm

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

 

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 20, 2016

Mistletoe on the radio

Filed under: Current Affairs,Media,Mistletoe,Orchard,social history — Jonathan Briggs @ 7:06 pm

Some interesting (well I think so) mistletoe coverage here and there on the radio recently – including more local radio interviews for me (today I did BBC Radio Suffolk again, for the second time this season, and Suffolk has hardly any mistletoe) and a slot on BYU Radio, a talk radio station based at Brigham Young University, Utah but broadcasting widely via satellite and the web.

The BYU interview was unusual – not simply because it was a US-based station – but because the station is so scholarly and particularly as the interview was in Julie Rose’s 2-hour long Top of Mind show which features ‘Smart, informative conversations and interviews that go beyond mere headlines and sound bites’.  Nothing as trivial as a two minute chat on a BBC local radio breakfast show – instead it is structured as extended one-to-one conversations with a guest on topical matters.

Yesterday’s edition of Top of Mind featured Is Trump Risking War with China?, The Future of US-Russia Relations, The Nativity is a Refugee Story, “Rogue One” Review, and Britain’s Rip-Roaring Holiday Theater Tradition. Plus, sandwiched between US-Russian Relations and the Nativity as a Refugee Story, Why Mistletoe Matters, featuring yours truly.

A slightly challenging interview, as I felt I should try to bring in US mistletoes as much as I could, but also to champion European mistletoe – which is, as regular blog readers well know, the real mistletoe of mid-winter tradition. The others, though fascinating, have been conscripted into a Christmas-tide role that doesn’t quite suit them. And I felt that though the issues of England’s declining apple orchards might seem a little irrelevant to an international audience, I had to mention them anyway.  Overall I think it all hung together fairly well considering.

You can listen for yourself via this link:

http://www.byuradio.org/episode/40a9939d-028d-4ccd-8f11-c8fe10d61959/top-of-mind-with-julie-rose-one-china-us-russia-relations-mistletoe-s-secrets-nativity-story-refuge?playhead=2163&autoplay=true

Note that this will start you at the mistletoe section, missing out the Trump/China and US-Russian Relations interviews. If you want to hear the whole show from the start, follow this link:

http://www.byuradio.org/episode/40a9939d-028d-4ccd-8f11-c8fe10d61959/top-of-mind-with-julie-rose-one-china-us-russia-relations-mistletoe-s-secrets-nativity-story-refuge

It’s all worth listening to, especially if you’re a fan of informed discussion on proper talk radio but are UK-based and usually rely entirely on BBC Radio 4.

NB I know I said I’d be covering immigrant Blackcap birds and their mistletoe-berry-habits in the next blog. But I’m leaving those until next time, again…

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!

1turd1_18thdec2016

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.

1turd2_18thdec2016

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.

1generalturdiness

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
morrisons2

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). 

morrisons1

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.

stunningsun1

‘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.

December 9, 2016

World records for Mistletoe Kisses – whose methodology?

Filed under: Media,Mistletoe,social history,Travel — Jonathan Briggs @ 9:13 am

Last year I reported (briefly) that Six Flags Over Georgia, a theme park near Atlanta, Georgia, had just set a new World record for kissing under mistletoe  – with their record officially recognised by Guinness Book of Records.  The record involved 201 couples simultaneously kissing under mistletoe.  Each couple had their own mistletoe spring (provided by the organisers – and the American Phoradendron mistletoe, not the classic Viscum of Europe) and had to kiss, on cue, for at least 10 seconds. Here’s the promo video from last year:

It seemed a suitably novel way to promote and re-invigorate the mistletoe kissing tradition.  Though sponsorship by DenTek, who provided “minty Comfort Clean Floss Picks with fluoride” to ensure “fresh breath for the kiss” made it seem a little less romantic.

This season they’re trying again, but involving several other Six Flags Parks in other states, including Missouri, Texas and California as well as Georgia. The event will be similar, simultaneous kissing under individual sprigs, and will be synchronised over three time zones.  Kissing is due to happen tomorrow, 10th December, at 5.15pm EST.  Details, if you’re interested in more info or want to take part (you’ll need to register first), are here:

But there is a rival – last Saturday, 3rd December, back home in Britain’s Mistletoe Capital, Tenbury Wells, another mistletoe kissing record was attempted. This one, part of the Tenbury Mistletoe Festival celebrations, was completely different to the Six Flags events. Instead of simultaneous kissing under individual sprigs the Tenbury record attempt involved one large ball of mistletoe and a five-hour kiss-athon, requiring new one kiss  every 40 seconds from 11am to 4pm.

How does this record attempt relate to the Six Flags one?  It seems to bear little resemblance in methodology so is it actually comparable? And what was the result last Saturday?

The Guinness Book of Records official summary, for mistletoe records, is fairly minimal. It lists three potential mistletoe records:

  • largest bunch of mistletoe
  • most couples kissing under mistletoe (single venue) and
  • most couples kissing under mistletoe (multiple venues)

Of these three the first and last have no record-holder at all (there’s an opp there for some of those big mistletoe bunches in tall trees around here!) and the second one is, not surprisingly, held by Six Flags Over Georgia in 2015.

So this year’s Six Flags events are probably aimed at setting a new multi-venue record (easy to achieve as there’s no current record holder) and also, I guess, at improving the single venue one too.  But the Guinness description is vague – no mention that it has to be simultaneous or individual sprigs per couple, so the Tenbury Wells attempt, despite a completely different measurement system, must be a valid competitor despite differing systems.

So what happened last Saturday in Tenbury Wells?  How many people kissed under the mistletoe? I didn’t (sorry!) because I couldn’t be there and so have no first hand knowledge. And I have not yet read any feedback. The Tenbury Mistletoe Association’s facebook page reports, at 14.50 on the day, that more people are needed and, at 15.15, that the older generation seem more willing.

But what was the result….?  The Ludlow Advertiser have a report on the Festival on their website here, but are coy about the record attempt result.

Update: just spotted the Shropshire Star’s account of the Tenbury record attempt, which confirms the record was not broken at Tenbury…  but they had fun trying!

 

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 30, 2016

Frosty mistletoe auction

Filed under: Current Affairs,Media,Mistletoe,Orchard,social history — Jonathan Briggs @ 12:34 pm

img_2396redLast Tuesday in November = first mistletoe auction of the season at Tenbury Wells.

A satisfyingly frosty day, with the mistletoe bundles glistening with hoarfrost in the sun.  And excellent stock – green-leaved and fully-berried (compare this time last year when the foliage  seemed  little yellow and the berries a little under-sized).

But what’s this? Not a lot of lots? There seemed to be significantly fewer piles of mistletoe than normal.

Nevertheless, and as usual, once the auction got to the mistletoe (it starts with trees and holly) there were crowds of buyers, hangers-on (incl me) and media people, so a minor shortage didn’t seem to matter. Indeed it seemed to boost prices, with most of the good mistletoe wraps (lots) going for £30 or more, which is double what they were getting last year.

img_2407redDoes that mean mistletoe will be expensive this year, or is it merely a reflection on the limited lots available today?  I suspect the latter – as I was assuming the good condition and well-berried nature of the harvest this year would depress prices, not push them up.

We shall see whether there’s a trend, or not, next week when the second auction takes place. That might be flooded with lots brought in by orchard-owners who’ve heard about Tuesday’s prices. A scenario which would, of course, lower prices…

Media interest yesterday included PA, local BBC TV news and BBC Radio Herefordshire & Worcester (mistletoe was a main theme in their drive-time show yesterday afternoon).

Buyers and sellers included the usual suspects – people, like me, who turn up every year, local sellers but buyers from much further afield – one van was a horse box from Connemara, and another was from Fife – both areas with very little (probably none) mistletoe.

Next auctions at Tenbury will be on 6th and 13th December.  Some more pics of the first auction below:

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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 27, 2016

Urban mistletoe – normal or abnormal?

Filed under: Current Affairs,Gardening,Media,Mistletoe,Orchard,social history,Travel — Jonathan Briggs @ 6:59 pm
urban2

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]

urban3

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!

urban5

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

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