KISSING UNDER THE MISTLETOE: FACTS TO SHARE AT YOUR NEXT HOLIDAY PARTY
Strictly speaking, kissing under the mistletoe was never to get out of hand, and often nearly did. To prevent abuses, the custom was defined as a man might steal a kiss under the hanging branch, but when he did, one berry was to be plucked from the plant and discarded. Once the berries were gone, the kissing charm of the mistletoe branch was spent, although that aspect of the custom is rarely recalled in these days. During the 19th century abuses of the kissing custom were prevalent, according to a verse written and called "The Mistletoe Bough." Interestingly, during uptight Victorian times, the custom came into full bloom!
American mistletoe, the kind most often associated with kissing, is one of 1,300 species of mistletoe worldwide but one of only two that are native to the United States. The other is dwarf mistletoe.
Phoradendron, the scientific name for American mistletoe, means "thief of the tree" in Greek. Although not a true parasite in scientific terms, mistletoe comes close, sinking its roots into a host tree and leeching nutrients from the tree to supplement its own photosynthesis.
Sadly, the translation of the word “mistletoe” itself isn’t very romantic. A few centuries back, some people apparently observed that mistletoe tended to take root where birds had left their droppings. “Mistal” is an Anglo-Saxon word that means “dung” and “tan” means “twig,” so mistletoe actually means “dung on a twig.”
The growth of mistletoe had little to do with the bird droppings, and a lot to do with the birds themselves. Mistletoe seeds are extremely sticky and often latch onto birds’ beaks or feathers or the fur of other woodland creatures, hitchhiking to a likely host tree before dropping off and starting to germinate.
Mistletoe is toxic to people, but the berries and leaves provide high-protein food for many animals. Many bird species rely on mistletoe for food and nesting material. Butterflies lay their eggs on the plants an use the nectar for food. Mistletoe is also an important pollen and nectar plant for bees.