The sacred mistletoe

The World of Mistletoes

The name “mistletoe” is given to hemi-parasitic plants that produce their own food through photosynthesis and use a root system called haustoria to take in water and nutrients from the xylem tissues of their host plant.

There are 1500 different shrubs and trees around the world that feed in this way. Most of these live in the canopy of the rainforests of Asia, Africa and South America. In North America there are approximately 10 different varieties of Mistletoe and in Australia and New Zealand around 100.

In Western Europe, a red berried mistletoe, Viscum crucitatum, is native to Southern Spain and Eastern Portugal, but the most widespread species throughout Europe, Scandinavia and Britain is, Viscum album. This is the Mistletoe of legend and tradition.

About the sacred mistletoe

Female plant.

Male plant.

Western European Mistletoe is a dioecious woody shrub. A slow growing deciduous evergreen that has continuously growing branches and leaves. Unlike other plants Mistletoe grows throughout the winter months by taking it's nutrients from the sun.

It has a yearly expotential growth cycle and a biannual fertility cycle. It takes nearly two years from the flowers beginning to grow, to a ripe and "ready to germinate" berry.


Viscum album has male and female plants.

The female mistletoe plant, which carries her young in the viscous translucent berry, flowers in spring when the berry is ripe. The female plant bares the fruit only if, twelve months earlier, the flowers have received pollen from a male plant.

The Flowers

Female Flower.

Male Flower.

The flowers pollinate from around February to April. The flower of the female plant is dainty by comparison to the resplendent male.

The male plant, flowers in great muchness in his need to procreate. Yet the unfortunate legless plant cannot walk himself, so he depends heavily upon borrowing the legs of the fruit fly and or other insects, which fortunately have not only six legs, but also wings. These wings never seem to hinder the flight of the fly but increase the difficult act of flying dramatically, allowing the pollen from the diamond shaped triflorum of the male to travel through the air and settle itself gently into the expectant, wanting female vestibule. But how does the Male entice the fruit fly to his chamber? by luring it in with the scent of decaying oranges, which the fruit fly finds most delectable.

The Berries

While this succulent mating occurs, the mother plant is also and at the same time preparing to birth her new offspring. The embryonic green plants inside her fruit have reached full term and are ready to be born into the world. For this she depends again on winged beasts, such as the Mistle Thrush and the Black Cap. These birds find the white berries most appealing and will devour the flesh in great quantities. The Mistle Thrush excretes the mistletoe seed in its faeces while the Black Cap wipes it's sticky beak onto a convenient branch.

Seed begins to grow.

Seed distribution by mistle thrush

Once the skin of the berry is broken, the new plant, which is already photosynthesising inside its white domain, will instinctively send out holdfast suckers to attach itself to the nearest surface. The preferable surface would be the young branch of a suitable host tree, such as apple, lime, poplar, hawthorn, rowan or any accepting hardwood tree that it finds itself upon.

When the suckers have taken hold, the new plant sends down a sinker, which penetrates the bark and sources nourishment from its new mother. This tap root seeks out the xylem layer and thus suckles from the host to aid its growth. If it cannot do this in time, the mistletoe plant will shrivel up and die.

The timing is most important. As the Sun moves above the equator at the Vernal Equinox, and the subsequent new moon moves into the tropical constellation of Aries, the sap rises in the trees and new growth is seen all around. The mistletoe takes advantage of the changes in celestial gravity and begins to grow.

If you look between the leaves of either sex in the spring you will see two pairs of leaf-shoots protruding from either side of the flower. Between Beltane and the summer solstice, the time of new growth when the sap in the host tree is rising most vigorously, these will grow out followed by a twig and open out. Between these new leaves will be flowers next spring. This year’s leaves will fall as the new growth breaks their hold and the berries will sit between the stems.