Mistletoe (viscum album, phoradendron serotinum, phoradendrum flavescens, etc) is a semi-parasitic plant that grows on tree and shrub branches. Mistletoes have small, oval, waxy green leaves that grow in pairs along the stem, and this plant can stay green even in winter. Mistletoes grow berries which are white, waxy and pearl like. These berries are eaten by birds and then transmitted to other trees or shrubs when the birds land and excrete. The droppings contain the seeds from the fruit, which then grow in the branches, sapping nutrients from the host.
Mistletoes are also called ‘dung on a twig’, because of its Anglo-Saxon etymology ‘mistel’ meaning dung and ‘tan’ meaning twig, possibly from bird dropping on twigs where mistletoes grew.
Mistletoes are a popular feature during Christmas, and many companies capitalize on mistletoe traditions by harvesting and selling them as ornamentation. Mistletoes are hung over doorways, and tradition has it that couples who are caught standing under the mistletoes are supposed to kiss. Proper etiquette dictates that the man is supposed to pluck a berry from the mistletoe after each kiss, and when the berries run out the kissing is supposed to stop. Couples are encourages to kiss under the mistletoes because legend has it that couples who kiss will have good luck, while those who do not will have bad luck. It’s also said that single women who do not get kissed under a mistletoe will remain single for at least another year.