WHO, WHAT, WHY?
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English mistletoe, said to be the best in the world, is facing a crisis. Why?
Druids bless the mistletoe at the Tenbury Wells market
It spreads good cheer and without it many Christmas kisses would remain ungiven.
Mistletoe is as festive as mince pies and the annual English crop is said to be the best in the world, praised for its elegant, parallel-sided leaves and lustrous berries.
By comparison mistletoe grown in France - largely of the same Viscum Album variety - is said to have larger, limper leaves and fewer berries. The different American variety has a reputation in some circles for falling to bits before one's lips can even be puckered.
But despite its status in the world of mistletoe, the English crop is facing a crisis. Disappearing apple orchards and the uncertain future of a unique auction are at the heart of the problem.
In the UK mistletoe grows as a parasite on the soft bark of certain trees, mainly apple. Most sold for the Christmas trade is harvested from low-growing orchard trees in the Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Shropshire area.
The problem is not the plant itself, it is not threatened, but the disappearing apple orchards. Mistletoe can be propagated but the success rate is low, meaning the industry relies heavily on supplies from the wild.
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"It is a complex situation," says mistletoe expert Jonathan Briggs. "While mistletoe is being spotted in more places - like parks and gardens - there is a real risk to the wild population. That means supplies are at risk long-term."
Nearly all English mistletoe is sold wholesale in one place: Tenbury Wells in Worcestershire - the "mistletoe capital" of the UK.
It has run a unique mistletoe auction before Christmas for the last 150 years, based at the town's cattle market. It is steeped in tradition, with Druids attending to bless the plants.
But this year will be the last sale at the site as it has been sold off to developers. The auction will have to find a new base, but there are fears that moving it to a field outside Tenbury Wells will rob the occasion of its ambience and unique ties with the town.
And while mistletoe makes some useful pocket-money for orchard owners at Christmas, without the ready market in Tenbury Wells it would hardly be worth cropping.
"This is the last wholesale market for English mistletoe," says Mr Briggs. "People come from all over to buy it. We don't know what will happen next year when the traditional market site is unavailable, but we are determined to keep the auction in the town."
There are hundreds of types of mistletoe
Concerned mistletoe growers and well-wishers have now joined forces to safeguard the plant and the auction.
The Tenbury English Mistletoe Enterprise (TEME), aims to keep the tradition alive and, with the blessing of Parliament, has declared 1 December National Mistletoe Day. It has also staged a mistletoe ball and festival.
In addition a website has been set up selling local mistletoe and the group hopes to clock up £100,000 in sales this year.
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