According to Cliff Richard, Christmas time is about mistletoe and wine, but what is mistletoe?

Mistletoe: The Evolution of a Christmas Tradition | Science | Smithsonian Magazine

Mistletoe plants are hemiparasitic plants on a variety of hosts, )such as apple, lime, poplar, sycamore, ash and hawthorn. However it is rarely found on oak).  That is, they grow on other plants, attaching with root suckers and take nutrients and water from them, without giving any benefit back to the host.  Mistletoe does not kill its host, but it does substantially weaken it. The plants themselves are either male or female, and it is the females that produce the berries and the plants are pollinated by birds and insects.

It is also harmful to humans.  Although it is not know to kill, it can cause stomach pains, vomiting and slowing of the heart rate, amongst other problems.  The same happens if cats or dogs accidentally eat the berries from mistletoe, although the reaction may be more severe, so it is vital to seek veterinary advice.

Mistletoe is used in festive decorations.  Since Victorian times, people have kissed under the mistletoe and plucked a berry as they pass, but prior to this the plant has been used by ancient Greeks as a medicine, the Celtic Druids as a sign of vivacity (due its ability to survive the depths of winter), and in Norse mythology as a symbol of love.

Will you be hanging mistletoe somewhere this Christmas?  Who do you hope to catch underneath it?

Until next time, keep calm and apply some Science!

Read more: