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Mistletoe is under threat
Couples kissing under the mistletoe were assured of fertility and good fortune as the plant contains progesterone
Couples kissing under the mistletoe were assured of fertility and good fortune as the plant contains progesterone

A campaign has been launched to give mistletoe the kiss of life and help protect our traditional orchard.

Naturalists warn that this traditional symbol of Christmas may disappear from some areas of the British countryside in the next 20 years.

Led by the National Trust, the campaign hopes to secure the future of mistletoe in its heartland by encouraging people buying sustainably sourced home-grown mistletoe in the run up to Christmas.

The campaign also encourages shoppers to ask where the mistletoe they are buying has come from.

Mistletoe
Mistletoe is relatively easy to harvest from fruit trees

In the UK, mistletoe has long been associated with Christmas and mid-winter customs, probably dating way back into prehistory as a symbol of ongoing life in the winter months. It was considered to bestow life and fertility; a protection against poison, and an aphrodisiac.

Couples kissing under the mistletoe were assured of fertility and good fortune as the plant contains progesterone, the female sex hormone.

One of the few National Trust locations in the South West where mistletoe is thriving is at Cotehele, in Cornwall.

Chris Groves, National Trust Orchard Officer at Cotehele, explains how Cotehele's traditional orchard provides a perfect habitat for mistletoe to flourish.

"Part of the essential conservation work we carry out at the property involves cutting it back and removing the distinctive mistletoe clumps. This work helps encourage a healthy growth of both male and female mistletoe, and ensures the mistletoe doesn't overwhelm the trees its growing on.

Mistletoe is part of our Christmas heritage and has a special place in a wonderful winter landscape. It would be a sad loss if mistletoe disappeared all together from its heartland.
Peter Brash, National Trust Ecologist

"We sell a huge quantity of mistletoe in the run-up to Christmas, providing a valuable source of income to the property. This is ploughed back into helping us protect Cotehele's orchards," he added.

Mistletoe is commonly found on fruit trees, where it is relatively easy to harvest. But it can also be seen on other host trees, such as lime, poplar and hawthorn across a wider area of the UK.

Leading mistletoe expert Jonathan Briggs explained: "Mistletoe benefits from management. Unchecked, it will swamp its host tree and, ultimately, cause it to die. Regular, managed cropping will ensure that the host tree remains productive while ensuring that a healthy population of mistletoe will persist."

Mistletoe is a parasitic plant which prefers the domestic apple tree as its' host
Mistletoe is a parasitic plant which prefers the domestic apple tree

"If mistletoe became more inaccessible because of an ongoing decline of traditional orchards and a loss of its main host, fruit trees, then it might become more a premium product with more scarce supply.

"Mistletoe also plays an important role in supporting wildlife. It provides winter food for birds such as the blackcap and mistle thrush.

"It also supports a total of six specialist insects, including the scarce mistletoe marble moth, some sap-sucking bugs and the affectionately named 'kiss me slow weevil' (Ixapion variegatum)."

National Trust Ecologist Peter Brash explains, "Ensuring your mistletoe comes from a sustainably managed, British source is good news all round. You will be supporting a small home-grown industry, while helping to ensure a future for mistletoe and the creatures that are dependent upon it.

"You'll be kissing with a clear conscience this Christmas."

Further information about the mistletoe campaign can be found:




SEE ALSO
In pictures: Harvesting mistletoe
03 Dec 10 |  Nature & Outdoors

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