Mistletoe plants grow on a wide range of host trees. All mistletoes are hemi-parasites, bearing evergreen leaves that do some photosynthesis; using the host mainly for water and mineral nutrients.
Mistletoe seeds germinate on the branch of a host tree or shrub and in its early stages of development is independent of its host. Later it forms a haustorium that penetrates the host tissue and takes water and nutrients from the host plant.
Propagation – Ripe mistletoe berries are pearly white and yield a glue-like pulp when crushed. Most ripen naturally in October and November and are harvested for Christmas arrangements. Berries that are green or yellow are unripe, and won’t produce seeds that germinate as well as those from ripe berries.
The best time to propagate mistletoe is between March and April, when the seeds are fully ripe. If you can’t find fresh berries from a living plant, preserve some Christmas sprigs with berries in a jar of water in the window of a cold, frost-free room until the end of February.
You must then pick a “host” tree. Your best bet will be an apple, poplar or lime tree. Many shrubs of the Rosaceae family also work well.
Use the sticky glue of the berry to attach it to the side or underside of a branch about eight inches in diameter. This is the correct thickness, as the bark on the branch will still be thin enough for the germinating mistletoe seeds to penetrate, and the branch itself will be sturdy enough to carry the weight of the growing plant and provide it with the necessary nutrients.
The higher up a tree the branch is, and the more sunlight the plant gets, the better. Wind some wool or twine around the branch to mark the site and leave the plant to establish naturally. It’s worth applying 15 or more berries to your host tree, as mistletoe requires male and female plants to produce berries. The germination rate is also quite low (only one in 10 seeds becomes a plant), and some berries may fall off or be eaten by birds. It will take four to five years for the plant to produce berries.
Mistletoe germination however, tends to happen quickly. You should see part of the germinating seedling (called a hypocotyl) emerge. This is the primary organ of extension of the young plant. You will see it start to bend toward the bark in an attempt to contact it.
This is when your mistletoe plants are most at risk from birds and other hungry wildlife. If the plants manage to make a host connection and do not die off from various elements, by the next February, you will have your own mistletoe plant.
When you cut your mistletoe from the host tree, new plants will usually sprout from the haustoria (root-like growth within the tree’s tissue). Once it has begun to grow, cut back each year to stop it from growing too big and harming the tree. The mistletoe and its host tree should be able to coexist healthily for years to come, providing you with holiday cheer every season.
Container – Being a weed in its natural environment, just about any container will do. However, depending on the variety you choose to grow, be sure that the container has good drainage and will be able to support the full-grown amaranth plant/s. You can start out with a relatively small container, but you may have to transplant to a larger pot along the way.
Older plants should be repotted every year or two, depending on their overall condition. When repotting, it can also help to trim the plant back and move it up only one plant size. Older plants sometimes need to be staked up to keep the long branches orderly.
Mistletoe Lore –
Because of the scheming of Loki, according to the 13th century Prose Edda, the god Baldr is killed by his brother, the blind god Höðr, by way of a mistletoe projectile, despite the attempts of Baldr’s mother, the goddess Frigg, to have all living things and inanimate objects swear an oath not to hurt Baldr after Baldr had troubling dreams of his death. Frigg was unable to get an oath from mistletoe, because “it seemed too young” to demand an oath from.
Vikings believed mistletoe was responsible for the resurrection of their god, Baldr, whose overjoyed mother would kiss anyone who passed under a mistletoe tree for protection.
In cultures across pre-Christian Europe, mistletoe was seen as a representation of divine male essence (and thus romance, fertility and vitality).
The ancient Druids believed mistletoe to be an indicator of great sacredness. The winter solstice, called ‘Alban Arthan’ by the Druids, was according to Bardic Tradition, the time when the Chief Druid would cut the sacred mistletoe from the Oak. The mistletoe is cut using a golden sickle on the sixth night of the new moon after the winter solstice. A cloth held below the tree by other members of the order to catch the spigs of mistletoe as they fell, as it was believed that it would have profaned the mistletoe to fall upon the ground. He would then divide the branches into many sprigs and distributed them to the people, who hung them over doorways as protection against thunder, lightning and other evils.
The Druids are thought to have believed that the berries of the mistletoe represented the sperm of the Gods. When pressed, a semen like substance issues from the white berries. Girls standing under a sprig of mistletoe were asking for a bit more than a kiss, it seems.
According to some versions of the kissing lore, the proper etiquette for kissing under mistletoe requires a man to remove one berry when he kisses a woman. Once all of the berries are gone, it becomes bad luck to kiss beneath that particular sprig.
People once placed it above babies’ cradles to protect them from evil or mischievous spirits, and young girls placed it under their pillows to dream of their future husbands.