The Hunt for Mistletoe

kate wilson
by Kate Wilson

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It was an unusually warm November, one that I am grateful for – but now that temps are starting to return to normal chilly and we’re midway through December – how can you not be feeling wrapped up in the Holiday season?

The Oakland Nursery gift shop is way ahead of me and has prepared for this fun season for weeks, if not months! Noticing an especially sparkly box filled with heavily glitterfied (just went ahead and made this fitting word up) balls of mistletoe (see above), I couldn’t help but wonder: why we don’t offer the real thing?

Oakland Nursery has offered real mistletoe on occasion, but only in very small amounts. Why? The boring, straightforward answer that I’ve been accepting for years: Because mistletoe is not cold hardy here and, similar to poinsettias, will burn and turn brown if it is too cold.

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However, poinsettias are not only widely celebrated, but we also carry them by the boat load.  What’s the rub? After some minor hunting around to get some deeper answers (thank you liberal arts degree for teaching me to always ask questions!), I came across some really interesting and – dare I say – highly entertaining details.

Detail #1:  Mistletoe – berries and plant – are poisonous. Just how much so?  Depends on the variety. Typically if a berry or two are accidently eaten, you will live to tell the tale. But your digestive system will not be thanking you. Definitely not advisable for brewing in tea and definitely not okay for pets to ingest. (Side note: poinsettias are also just for looking – not ingesting)

Detail #2: How is mistletoe grown? Maybe in a greenhouse? Nope – in the warmer southern United States there is no need for such fuss. As a matter of fact, it is parasitic! Not bothering to set down roots in soil, it just taps in directly through hardwood trees and grows in the tree tops. As if that isn’t interesting enough, the most commonly practiced way to harvest this little holiday wonder is to blast it out.

Detail #2 a: Ever hear of mistletoe hunting?  It’s a real thing. Using a shotgun, one blasts out a bunch of mistletoe from the tree tops and hopes that by the time it falls to the ground not all of it was blown into smithereens. So fascinating, right?! We’ve come full circle- hunting for answers and the answer involves actual hunting. Now that we know this poisonous parasite has an established hostile harvesting technique – how in the world did we get to smooching under it?

And if you’re still having trouble believing this nugget of blog-posting dreams, check out this link:

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2001/12/1219_mistletoe.html

Wishing you and yours the happiest of Holidays!

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