Unzipping door number 2 of our outdoor ADVENTure calendar we found a species strongly linked to Christmas hanging from a tree branch. Our tipi is currently located in a small orchard, and this species is a parasitic one, which, while it is found on a number of different species, is associated with apple trees in Europe.
It is of course the affection inducing mistletoe (we have Norse myth to thank for that tradition).
There are more than 1500 different species of mistletoe across the world, and despite being parasitic research has demonstrated that these plants are actually keystone species – one “whose impact on its community or ecosystem is large and disproportionately large relative to its abundance“. Concerns about a reduction in mistletoe abundance in the past 30 years have led to conservation projects targeting mistletoe and their associated species.
It is the European mistletoe Viscum album that is most commonly found in festive depictions. Viscum album is an evergreen plant with distinctive white berries, and is easily identifiable as it hangs in a large ball from tree branches. The berries are spread between trees by birds, such as the mistle thrush – a species that has experienced dramatic declines in the UK in recent years.
If you live in the south-west midlands in England then you are located in the mistletoe stronghold for the country, this was identified during surveys in the 1990s. There is an ongoing interest in where mistletoe and their associated species are distributed. So if you’re in the UK and you spot some while you’re out and about this Christmas why not submit a sighting here, or you could even look at encouraging some growth of your own mistletoe. For information on other projects and research on mistletoe conservation around the world take a look here: New Zealand, Nepal, Korea.