Jonathan's Mistletoe Diary

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 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.

church1

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

 

September 30, 2016

Mistletoe Season looms…

Filed under: Current Affairs,Media,Mistletoe,Religion,Science,social history,Travel — Jonathan Briggs @ 11:18 am

kissmenowToo early for mistletoe? Maybe.

But it’s never off the agenda here at Mistletoe Matters, and we’re already fielding all sorts of enquiries from the press, public etc. So here are a few updates, as they seem to be needed:

– It’s too early to say how good a year it is for mistletoe – there are quite a lot of berries, but they are still unripe and it is impossible to say how big they’ll get or exactly when they’ll turn white this season. There’ll be more info in a few weeks time.

– Mistletoe Auctions in Tenbury will again be at Burford House Garden Stores.  Dates are Tuesday 29th November, Tuesday 6th December and Tuesday 13th December. Further info, including links to buyers and sellers registration documents, are available from Nick Champion.

– Mistletoe websites- all our websites are due some updating – more on that when it’s done!  All are available via www.mistletoe.org.uk

– Druid mistletoe events this season include the public event at Tenbury Wells, which will be at 3pm on Saturday 3rd December at the Burgage. More details later. Though it’s worth noting that you can follow that up with an evening with Damh the Bard at the Fountain Inn, Tenbury. Tickets for Damh are available here.

druidbeer – Tenbury Mistletoe Festival – I’m no longer involved so don’t know what’s planned but you will find info on their website soon (currently still showing 2015 details)

– Mistletoe Surveys – all ongoing, particularly the management surveys. Details of those are on our survey website.

– Mistletoe Matters consultancy is open for advice, talks, media assistance etc – details of that here.

– And last but not least the English Mistletoe Shop (not be confused with similarly-named traders!) is open for grow-kit and book orders – details of all on the shop website.

That’s all for now…  more soon!

 

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 13, 2015

The first of 2015’s Giant Mistletoes, but will it be the best?

Filed under: Current Affairs,Gardening,social history,Travel — Jonathan Briggs @ 9:05 pm
Tags:
A rather cheap-looking giant mistletoe in Melbourne, 2013

A relatively cheap-looking giant mistletoe in Melbourne, 2013

Giant, pendant, but fake (obviously) mistletoes seem to be turning into a tradition, at least amongst corporate marketing teams and street decorators. In recent years there have many examples of these giant decorations – some stunning works of art (e.g. at RHS Harlow Carr back in 2008), some remarkable eye-catchers (e.g. Heathrow Airport in 2013) and some just plain tasteless (e.g Melbourne’s glow in the dark decorations in 2013, which looked as if was made of old scaffold poles and left-over street lamps – see pic right).

Covent Gardens' ‘Meet Me Under the Mistletoe’ Christmas decorations, designed by Michael Howells

Covent Gardens’ ‘Meet Me Under the Mistletoe’ Christmas decorations, designed by Michael Howells

I’m expecting a good crop of these again this season, and the first that I’ve become aware of this year is in London’s Covent Garden, where they have not one but 40 giant mistletoes!

Designed by Michael Howells and unveiled yesterday, the 40 mistletoes, each about 3 metres tall, take the form of chandeliers with glowing berries (nearly 700 of those).

The most striking aspect, to me, is the accuracy of the design, with the paired leaves beyond the berries. Many artificial mistletoe designs tend to group the berries with the leaves, so it’s really satisfying to see a design with real commitment to accuracy.

But this is just the first of this year’s giant mistletoes – will any other venue do better? Covent Garden is setting a high standard to beat!

Coming soon from Mistletoe Diary:

  • Mistletoe Surveys – updates and new links
  • Mistletoe Management – issues and opportunities
  • Mistletoe Conservation – news and views
  • Mistletoe Auctions 2015 – quality and prices
  • Mistletoe Oaks – news and views
  • Mistletoe in the Media – 2015’s hits and misses
    And other marvellous mistletoe minutiae…

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 4, 2015

Not-so-wild but fairly western mistletoe

Filed under: Current Affairs,Gardening,Mistle Thrush,Mistletoe,Orchard,social history,Travel — Jonathan Briggs @ 9:46 pm
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How far west can mistletoe grow in Britain? The main population is in the south-west English Midlands, overlapping into eastern-most Wales in Monmouthshire. But despite this being western-ish (this is definitely west of Britain’s geographic centre) it is not really a western plant, being quite rare in Devon and Cornwall, and in the rest of Wales. There are a few isolated populations, here and there, but they can be hard to find.

And those odd populations may not be ‘wild’ as they are so far outside the species natural range they are probably planted, though often many decades ago. Indeed a few are known to be over 100 years-old, the date of planting being known, with the whole colony arising from that one historic action.

Llanerchaeron - mistletoe on apple trees in the walled garden

Llanerchaeron – mistletoe on apple trees in the walled garden

I’m always on the look-out for new examples and so was very pleased (and surprised!) to come across a new one today, on old apple trees in the walled garden of Llanerchaeron, near Aberaeron in Ceredigion. When I say ‘new’ I mean new to me, I’m sure the National Trust, who run the place, are already well aware that they have mistletoe. But it was a particularly interesting find for me, as it is very western indeed, possibly one of the most western I know.

Aberaeron itself is way out west, with the Llanerchaeron estate a little to its east, and today’s mistletoe is at UK grid reference SN480601. That’s an Easting of 2480, which is most definitely a very western Easting. How does this compare to other western mistletoe populations? Fairly well actually. The most obvious one to compare it to is the small population at Cotehele, another National Trust-owned historic estate, away south in England on the Cornish/Devon border, overlooking the Tamar Estuary. The mistletoe there is acknowledged to be some of Britain’s most western. But could today’s mistletoe be even further west? Has the west just been won by Llanerchaeron mistletoe?

Llanerchaeron - detail of mistletoe on apple trees in the walled garden, with berries just beginning to show white

Llanerchaeron – detail of mistletoe on apple trees in the walled garden, with berries just beginning to show white

Back to grid-references and calculations… The mistletoe at Cotehele, also on old apple trees, is at SX422685, which makes an Easting of 2422. This means, ever-so-slightly-disappointingly, that today’s mistletoe doesn’t win. Cotehele is 5.8 kilometres further west. Cotehele wins, but not by much.

And was today’s mistletoe natural – i.e a wild population? I doubt it. It’s in a classic location for planting, a big country estate with an apple orchard. Plus the plants don’t look very old, maybe less than 20 years, and I know that some NT staff have been planting it here and there.

The Cotehele population is fairly recently established and perhaps this one is too. Though you can never be too sure of these things. There are remnant historic orchards in the Tamar valley near Cotehele that have a little mistletoe, and there is mistletoe in gardens just upstream at Calstock and across the river at Tamerton. Which was there first? All are very close together as the Mistle Thrush flies.

That’s the situation as I understand it near Cotehele, so perhaps there’s more in the area around Aberaeron…. I’ll have to come back when the trees have lost their leaves…

Edited to add: 

A map, for those who are unsure where these places are… The two red crosses mark the two sites, the top one is Aberaeron and the lower one Cotehele. Locations are only approximate on this scale!

Llanerchaeron4

Commercial break…  East or West, why not grow your own mistletoe?

If you want to grow your own mistletoe, east or west, a good way to start is with a mistletoe grow-kit from the English Mistletoe Shop… 

October 31, 2015

All Mistletoe’s Eve?

Filed under: Current Affairs,Gardening,Mistletoe,Orchard,Religion,social history,Travel — Jonathan Briggs @ 8:18 pm
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2015_unripe

Unripe mistletoe berries. These are on the shady side of the host tree. Those on the sunny side are already whitening up for winter…

All Hallows’ Eve, and the mistletoe is ripening… Not that it’s got anything to do with Halloween of course, other than being a mysterious plant, a symbol of pagan tradition and a portent of the dark winter months. Which is, I s‘pose, quite a lot.

But with November dawning tomorrow we’ll soon be right back into mistletoe season. So I think it’s fair to say this is Mistletoe’s Eve too.

Actually, mistletoe season never quite goes away for us mistletoe-enthusiasts – I’ve been mistletoe-spotting and plotting all summer…

There’ll be more about all that (the spotting and plotting) later in the season. For now, a brief summary of some of the mistletoe things happening this winter, in no particular order:

Mistletoe Auctions
The Tenbury Wells Mistletoe Auctions are on three Tuesday mornings as usual – this year’s dates being 24th November, 1st December and 8th December. They’ll be at Burford House Garden Store again, like last year. For details of times, location etc visit Nick Champion’s website (Nick is the auctioneer).

The auctions are commercial wholesale events, but open to all and well worth a visit as you’ll see more mistletoe in one place then you’ve ever seen before, but on the ground, not on a tree (which does mean, sadly, that it has lost its magic power – according to Druid legend mistletoe must never touch the ground – ancient druids (see below) would catch cut mistletoe as it fell, in a white sheet…)

Mistletoe Training
There will be some mistletoe management training from Mistletoe Matters this season – some for private groups, some open to all – details will be available later in the season.

Mistletoe Druid Events
I am aware of plans for two druid mistletoe ceremonies so far – more may be announced later. Some are private events, others are open to all. One of the public events will be at Tenbury Wells on Saturday 28th November at 3pm.

Mistletoe Festival
And talking of Tenbury events, there is the Mistletoe Festival – whose main events take place on Saturday 5th December. I’m no longer directly involved in the Festival, so can’t give much of an insight in what’s going on – you’ll find details at http://www.tenburymistletoe.org/festival_day.html

Mistletoe Surveys
This season sees the re-launch (delayed from last year) of the various Mistletoe League surveys, gathering information on mistletoe management in orchards and gardens and on mistletoe susceptibility varies between fruit tree varieties. More about these later in the season – for now I’ll just point out they have a new website – at surveys.mistletoe.org.uk

Mistletoe Websites
And talking of new websites, as well as the new surveys website there is now a new website for Mistletoe Matters, where I put most of my mistletoe advice. I’ll post some info about that soon too.

Not forgetting, of course, the ongoing Mistletoe Pages website, which has loads of general mistletoe information.

Mistletoe Sales Websites
Last but not least there are the online mistletoe trading websites – including my English Mistletoe Shop – the main site here, or the dedicated Grow-Kit site here. We (English Mistletoe Shop) are not selling mistletoe online this season – but I’ll post a review of those sites that are (including those with confusingly similar names to us) in November.

And, er, that’s it for now. There’ll be more Mistletoe Diary blogging soon – I’ve been saving lots of stuff up for November/December….

December 15, 2014

Back to the First Contact (with parasitic plants – though not mistletoe)

Filed under: Biodiversity,Mistletoe,Science,social history,Travel — Jonathan Briggs @ 8:59 am
Various species of Orobanche, the Broomrapes, which parasite the roots of their host plants. Ivy Broomrape is on the right.,

Various species of Orobanche, the Broomrapes, which parasite the roots of their host plants. Ivy Broomrape is on the right.

I went back in time, sort-of, last summer when I re-visited the scene of my First Contact – with parasitic plants, not aliens. But not mistletoe – this was a different parasite…

Randan Wood, near Dodford in Worcestershire, was where I first saw Ivy Broomrape, Orobanche hederae, a root parasite of Ivy.  The occasion was sometime in the mid 1970s when I would have been about 14. The day was a little unusual – a variant of my usual (but odd for a teenager) habit of walking out alone on Sunday afternoons to explore new footpaths and find new plants.  On this particular day I was meeting Fred Fincher, an elderly (to me, but probably only in his fifties) naturalist who lived in the wood. He wrote a column on natural history in the local paper and I had invited myself, as a fellow naturalist, to his house (not much more than a hut) in the woods.

Ivy Broomrape, Orobanche hederae, flower spikes

Ivy Broomrape, Orobanche hederae, flower spikes

It’s probably not the sort of thing teenagers do these days – visiting strange men who live in little huts in the woods, several miles walk from home, but that’s what I did. Fred made me a Ribena drink (with v cloudy water I recall – am not sure what the supply was) and we sat down to talk about plants. At the time I had a particular interest in fungi, and he showed me his library of mycological identification guides including the original Danish (I think) edition of Lange and Hora’s publication (which had become, in translation, one of the first Collins guide to fungi).

And we had a potter around outside his little house, looking at interesting plants. One of which, in the ivy at the foot of the house walls, was Orobanche hederae, whose chlorophyll-free flower spikes were conspicuous. My recollection is that Fred said he had sown seed there, amongst the ivy, and was really pleased it had grown.

That was my only direct encounter with Fred but it may have a lot to answer for. Just a few years later, when studying botany at Bristol, I chose to do my final year project on Orobanche hederae, which was surprisingly common around the Avon Gorge. I completely messed up the project, which was supposed to be about the haustorial structures connecting parasite to host roots. My microtome cutting technique failed to section any of these structures properly (sorry Dr Gledhill) so the project became a mish-mash of increasingly desperate other trivia on Orobanche. This, despite dooming me to a poor grade, left me fascinated by parasitic plants – and the rest, as they say, is history…

Rosedene, Greater Dodford Chartist Settlement, August 2014

Rosedene, Great Dodford Chartist Settlement, August 2014

I never met Fred again, and he died many years ago. His library survives, bequeathed to the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust and kept in their offices at Smite near Droitwich. And Randan Wood, which he owned (originally bought by his parents as a chicken farm if I recall correctly) is now a Worcestershire Wildlife Trust Reserve.

So what happened in summer 2014? My time travel? Well, we were holidaying in Dodford, amongst the Chartist cottages, staying in Rosedene, the one restored by the National Trust, and a walk to Randan seemed essential. I was a little nervous, not being sure what was left of Fred’s place. So I was pleasantly surprised, but also a little shocked, to find it still stood, derelict and unloved, but recognisable still with fitted bookcases still in situ. And there was lots of Ivy, everywhere.

At the house itself we couldn’t find any Orobanche, which seemed disappointing – but in the edge of the track, just a few yards away, we found mature flowering spikes. These were by now (this was August) setting seed, so I gathered some in an envelope (Orobanche has very fine powdery seeds) to scatter amongst some ivy roots at home.

 

Want to grow your own parasitic plant?

Why not try Mistletoe (so much more useful than Orobanche!)?

Grow-kits are available from 

EMSNewad1

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