Read them in the list below!
1. There are 1,300 mistletoe species worldwide. The continental United States and Canada are home to more than 30 species, and Hawaii harbors another six.
2. The mistletoe’s white berries are toxic to humans but are favored during autumn and winter—when other foods are scarce—by mammals ranging from deer and elk to squirrels, chipmunks and porcupines. Many bird species, such as robins, chickadees, bluebirds and mourning doves, also eat the berries.
3. 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 and use the nectar as food. Mistletoe is also an important pollen and nectar plant for bees.
4. Three kinds of U.S. butterflies depend on mistletoe for survival: the great purple hairstreak, the thicket hairstreak and the Johnson’s hairstreak. These butterflies lay eggs on mistletoe, and their young eat the leaves. The adults of all three species feed on mistletoe nectar, as do some species of native bees.
5. The mistletoe’s white berries are toxic to humans but are favored during autumn and winter—when other foods are scarce—by mammals ranging from deer and elk to squirrels, chipmunks and porcupines. Many bird species, such as robins, chickadees, bluebirds and mourning doves, also eat the berries.
6. Globally, more than 20 mistletoe species are endangered.
7. Despite its parasitic tendencies, mistletoe has been a natural part of healthy forest ecosystems for millions of years.
8. All mistletoes grow as parasites on the branches of trees and shrubs. The genus name of North America’s oak mistletoe—by far the most common species in the eastern United States—is Phoradendron, Greek for “tree thief.”
9. The dwarf mistletoe doesn’t have to rely solely on hitchhiking to find a host tree. The seeds of the dwarf mistletoe can explode from ripe berries and shoot as far as 50 feet.
10. A variety of birds nest directly in witches’ brooms, including house wrens, chickadees, mourning doves and pygmy nuthatches. Researchers found that 43 percent of spotted owl nests in one forest were associated with witches’ brooms and that 64 percent of all Cooper’s hawk nests in northeastern Oregon were in mistletoe. Several tree squirrel species also nest in witches’ brooms.
11. 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.
12. Ancient Anglo-Saxons noticed that mistletoe often grows where birds leave droppings, which is how mistletoe got its name: In Anglo-Saxon, “mistel” means “dung” and “tan” means “twig,” hence, “dung-on-a-twig.”
13. 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.
14. Trees infested with mistletoe die early because of the parasitic growth, producing dead trees useful to nesting birds and mammals. A mistletoe-infested forest may produce three times more cavity-nesting birds than a forest lacking mistletoe.
15. 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.”
16. As they mature, mistletoes grow into thick, often rounded masses of branches and stems until they look like baskets, sometimes called “witches’ brooms,” which can reach 5-feet wide and weigh 50 pounds.
17. Mistletoes produce white berries, each containing one sticky seed that can attach to birds and mammals for a ride to new growing sites. The ripe white berries of dwarf mistletoe, native to the western United States and Canada, also can explode, ejecting seeds at an initial average speed of 60 miles per hour and scattering them as far as 50 feet.
18. Twenty species of mistletoe are endangered, so be careful what you pluck from the forest for your next holiday party.
19. 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.
20. When a mistletoe seed lands on a suitable host, it sends out roots that penetrate the tree and draw on its nutrients and water. Mistletoes also can produce energy through photosynthesis in their green leaves.
21. Kissing under the mistletoe is first found associated with the Greek festival of Saturnalia and later with primitive marriage rites.
22. They probably originated from two beliefs. One belief was that it has power to bestow fertility. It was also believed that the dung from which the mistletoe would also possess “life-giving” power. In Scandinavia, mistletoe was considered a plant of peace, under which enemies could declare a truce or warring spouses kiss and make-up. Later, the eighteenth-century English credited with a certain magical appeal called a kissing ball. At Christmas time a young lady standing under a ball of mistletoe, brightly trimmed with evergreens, ribbons, and ornaments, cannot refuse to be kissed. Such a kiss could mean deep romance or lasting friendship and goodwill. If the girl remained unkissed, she cannot expect not to marry the following year.