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European mistletoe attached to a silver birch

Mistletoe is the common name for a group of hemi-parasitic plants in the order Santalales that grow attached to and within the branches of a tree or shrub. Parasitism evolved only nine times in the plant kingdom;[1] of those, the parasitic mistletoe habit has evolved independently five times: Misodendraceae, Loranthaceae, and Santalaceae, including the former separate families Eremolepidaceae and Viscaceae. Although Viscaceae and Eremolepidaceae were placed in a broadly-defined Santalaceae by Angiosperm Phylogeny Group II, DNA data indicates that they evolved independently.

The word 'mistletoe' (Old English mistiltan) is of uncertain etymology; it may be related to German Mist, for dung and Tang for branch, since mistletoe can be spread in the feces of birds moving from tree to tree. However, Old English mistel was also used for basil.

European mistletoe, Viscum album, is a poisonous plant that causes acute gastrointestinal problems including stomach pain, and diarrhea along with low pulse.[2]

The name was originally applied to Viscum album (European Mistletoe, Santalaceae), the only species native in Great Britain and much of Europe. Later the name was further extended to other related species, including Phoradendron serotinum (the Eastern Mistletoe of eastern North America, also Santalaceae). European Mistletoe is readily recognized by its smooth-edged oval evergreen leaves borne in pairs along the woody stem, and waxy white berries in dense clusters of 2 to 6. In America, the Eastern Mistletoe is similar, but has shorter, broader leaves and longer clusters of 10 or more berries. In the United States, Phoradendron flavescens is commercially harvested for Christmas decorations.[3]

The largest family of Mistletoes, Loranthaceae, has 73 genera and over 900 species.[4] Subtropical and tropical climates have markedly more Mistletoe species; Australia has 85, of which 71 are in Loranthaceae, and 14 in Santalaceae.[5]

Contents

Life cycle

Mistletoe in winter

Mistletoe plants grow on a wide range of host trees, and commonly reduce their growth but can kill them with heavy infestation. Viscum album can parasitise more than 200 tree and shrub species. Almost all mistletoes are hemi-parasites, bearing evergreen leaves that do some photosynthesis, and using the host mainly for water and mineral nutrients. However, the mistletoe first sprouts from bird feces on the trunk of the tree and indeed in its early stages of life takes it nutrients from this source. An exception is the leafless quintral, Tristerix aphyllus, which lives deep inside the sugar-transporting tissue of a spiny cactus, appearing only to show its tubular red flowers.[6] The genus Arceuthobium (dwarf mistletoe; Santalaceae) has reduced photosynthesis; as an adult, it manufactures only a small proportion of the sugars it needs from its own photosythesis but as a seedling it actively photosynthesizes until a connection to the host is established.

Some species of the largest family, Loranthaceae, have small, insect-pollinated flowers (as with Santalaceae), but others have spectacularly showy, large, bird-pollinated flowers.

Most mistletoe seeds are spread by birds, such as the Mistle Thrush in Europe, the Phainopepla in southwestern North America, and Dicaeum of Asia and Australia. However, distinguishing between this species and ones of other ecological biomes is not difficult. They derive sustenance and agility through eating the fruits and nuts (drupes). The seeds are excreted in their droppings and stick to twigs, or more commonly the bird grips the fruit in its bill, squeezes the sticky coated seed out to the side, and then wipes its bill clean on a suitable branch. The seeds are coated with a sticky material called viscin (containing both cellulosic strands and mucopolysaccharides), which hardens and attaches the seed firmly to its future host.

Ecological importance

Mistletoe was often considered a pest that kills trees and devalues natural habitats, but was recently recognized as an ecological keystone species, an organism that has a disproportionately pervasive influence over its community.[7] A broad array of animals depend on mistletoe for food, consuming the leaves and young shoots, transferring pollen between plants, and dispersing the sticky seeds. The dense evergreen witches' brooms formed by the dwarf mistletoes (Arceuthobium species) of western North America also make excellent locations for roosting and nesting of the Northern Spotted Owls and the Marbled Murrelets. In Australia the Diamond Firetails and Painted Honeyeaters are recorded as nesting in different mistletoes. This behavior is probably far more widespread than currently recognized; more than 240 species of birds that nest in foliage in Australia have been recorded nesting in mistletoe, representing more than 75% of the resident avifauna.

A study of mistletoe in junipers concluded that more juniper berries sprout in stands where mistletoe is present, as the mistletoe attracts berry-eating birds which also eat juniper berries.[8] Such interactions lead to dramatic influences on diversity, as areas with greater mistletoe densities support higher diversities of animals. Thus, rather than being a pest, mistletoe can have a positive effect on biodiversity, providing high quality food and habitat for a broad range of animals in forests and woodlands worldwide.

In culture and mythology

European mistletoe, Viscum album, figured prominently in Greek mythology, and is believed to be The Golden Bough of Aeneas, ancestor of the Romans.[9] The Norse god Baldr was killed with mistletoe.[10]

Mistletoe postcard, circa 1900

Mistletoe bears fruit at the time of the Winter Solstice, the birth of the new year, and may have been used in solstitial rites in Druidic Britain as a symbol of immortality. In Celtic mythology and in druid rituals, it was considered a remedy for barrenness in animals and an antidote to poison[11], although the fruits of many mistletoes are actually poisonous if ingested as they contain viscotoxins.

An old Christian tradition said that mistletoe was once a tree and furnished the wood of the Cross. After the Crucifixion, the plant shriveled and became dwarfed to a parasitic vine.[2]

In Romanian traditions, mistletoe (vâsc in Romanian) is considered a source of good fortune. The medical and the supposed magical properties of the plant are still used, especially in rural areas.

A popular myth says that mistletoe was cut with a gold sickle and it lost its power if it fell and touched the ground. This is a confusion with the Holly 'holy' Tree, the most sacred tree of the druids (after the Oak) due to both plants being green all year, having colorful fruits and sharing similar history of winter months. Getafix, the druid in the Asterix comics, was often seen up trees collecting mistletoe for his magic potion.

Mistletoe has sometimes been nicknamed the vampire plant because it can probe beneath the tree bark to drain water and minerals, enabling it to survive during a drought. William Shakespeare gives it an unflattering reference in Titus Andronicus, Act II, Scene I: "Overcome with moss and baleful mistletoe".

Mistletoe is commonly used as a Christmas decoration, though such use was rarely alluded to until the 18th century.[12] Viscum album is used in Europe whereas Phoradendron serotinum is used in North America. According to custom, the mistletoe must not touch the ground between its cutting and its removal as the last of Christmas greens at Candlemas; it may remain hanging through the year, often to preserve the house from lightning or fire, until it was replaced the following Christmas Eve.[13]. The tradition has spread throughout the English-speaking world but is largely unknown in the rest of Europe.

Mistletoe (Phoradendron flavescens) is the state floral emblem for the state of Oklahoma. The state did not have an official flower, leaving mistletoe as the assumed state flower until the Oklahoma Rose was designated as such in 2004.

Kissing under mistletoe at Christmas

According to a custom of Christmas cheer, any two people who meet under a hanging of mistletoe are obliged to kiss. The custom is of Scandinavian origin.[14]

In Norse mythology, Baldr was a god of vegetation. His mother, Frigga, prompted by a prophetic dream, made every plant, animal and inanimate object promise not to harm him. But Frigga overlooked the mistletoe plant — and the mischievous god Loki took advantage of this oversight, tricking the blind god Höðr into killing Baldr with a spear fashioned from mistletoe. Baldr's death brought winter into the world, until the gods restored him to life. Frigga declared the mistletoe sacred, ordering that from now on it should bring love rather than death into the world. Happily complying with Frigga's wishes, any two people passing under the plant from now on would celebrate Baldr's resurrection by kissing under the mistletoe.

Medicinal use

Available clinical evidence does not support claims of anti-cancer effect for mistletoe extract; quality of life and other outcomes measures have likewise shown no or weak improvement in rigorous trials.[15][16][17]

Mistletoe leaves and young twigs are used by herbalists, and it is popular in Europe, especially in Germany, for treating circulatory and respiratory system problems.[18][19][20] Use of mistletoe extract in the treatment of cancer originated with Rudolph Steiner, the founder of Anthroposophy. He compared the parasitic nature of the mistletoe plant to that of cancer, and believed that cancer represents a faltering of the body's spiritual defenses.[17][21] Some anthroposophical mistletoe preparations are diluted homeopathically. Mistletoe extract is sold as Iscador, Helixor, and several other trade names.[17]

Public interest in the United States was spurred in 2001 following actress Suzanne Somers' decision to use Iscador in lieu of chemotherapy following her treatment for breast cancer using surgery and radiotherapy.[22][23]

Other uses

The sticky juice of mistletoe berries was used as adhesive to trap small animals or birds. In South Africa it is called "Bird lime" in English and voelent in Afrikaans. A handful of ripe fruits are chewed until sticky, and the mass is then rubbed between the palms of the hands to form long extremely sticky strands which are then coiled around small thin tree branches where birds perch. When a bird lands on this it gets stuck to the branch and is then easy to catch by hand.

References

  1. ^ Job Kuijt, Biology of Parasitic Flowering Plants (University of California) 1969.
  2. ^ The Handy Science Answer Book. Barnes and Noble. 1997.  
  3. ^ Sydney J. Tanner. There’s more to mistletoe than just a kiss prompter. Chippewa.com. December 10, 2009
  4. ^ WS Judd, CS Campbell, EA Kellogg, PF Stevens & MJ Donaghue (2002) Plant systematics: a phylogenetic approach. Sinauer Associates, Inc., Sunderland Massachusetts, USA. ISBN 0-87893-403-0
  5. ^ B.A. Barlow (1983) A revision of the Viscaceae of Australia. Brunonia 6, 25-58.
  6. ^ Susan Milius, "Botany under the Mistletoe" Science News' 158.26/27 (December 2000:412).
  7. ^ David M. Watson, "Mistletoe-A Keystone Resource in Forests and Woodlands Worldwide" Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 32 (2001:219-249).
  8. ^ Susan Milius, "Mistletoe, of All Things, Helps Juniper Trees" Science News 161.1 (January 2002:6).
  9. ^ Virgil (19 BCE) The Aeneid
  10. ^ Gylfaginning, XLIX On-line text
  11. ^ Pliny the Elder. Natural History. Book XVI.  
  12. ^ Susan Drury, "Customs and Beliefs Associated with Christmas Evergreens: A Preliminary Survey" Folklore 98.2 (1987:194-199) p. 194.
  13. ^ Drury 1987.
  14. ^ E. Cobham Brewer, Dictionary of Phrase and Fable 1898, s.v. "Kissing under the mistletoe" relates the custom to the death of Balder, without authority.
  15. ^ Ernst; Schmidt, K.; Steuer-Vogt, M. (2003). "Mistletoe for cancer? A systematic review of randomised clinical trials". International journal of cancer. Journal international du cancer 107 (2): 262–267. doi:10.1002/ijc.11386. PMID 12949804.   edit
  16. ^ Horneber; Bueschel, G.; Huber, R.; Linde, K.; Rostock, M.; Horneber, M. (2008). "Mistletoe therapy in oncology". Cochrane database of systematic reviews (Online) (2): CD003297–CD003ub2. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD003297.pub2. PMID 18425885.   edit
  17. ^ a b c "Mistletoe". American Cancer Society. 2008-11-01. http://www.cancer.org/docroot/ETO/content/ETO_5_3X_Mistletoe.asp. Retrieved 2009-10-11.  
  18. ^ Ernst E, Schmit K, Steuer-Vogt MK. Mistletoe for cancer? A systematic review of randomised controlled trials. Int J Cancer 2003;107:262-7, cited in BMJ 2006;333:1293-1294 (23 December)[1]
  19. ^ Drug Digest
  20. ^ botanical.com - A Modern Herbal | Mistletoe
  21. ^ Ernst, E. (2006). "Mistletoe as a treatment for cancer". BMJ (Clinical research ed.) 333 (7582): 1282–1283. doi:10.1136/bmj.39055.493958.80. PMID 17185706.   edit
  22. ^ "Mistletoe: Natural doesn't always mean harmless". American Cancer Society. 2001-05-04. http://www.cancer.org/docroot/NWS/content/NWS_1_1xU_Mistletoe__Natural_Doesn%E2%80%99t_Always_Mean_Harmless_.asp. Retrieved 2009-10-11.  
  23. ^ Schneider, KS (2001-04-30). "A Matter of Choice". People. http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20134247,00.html. Retrieved 2009-10-11.  

Images

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

MISTLETOE 1 (Viscum album), a species of Viscum, of the botanical family Loranthaceae. The whole genus is parasitical, and contains about twenty species, widely distributed in the warmer parts of the old world; but only the mistletoe proper is a native of Europe. It forms an evergreen bush, about 4 ft. in length, thickly crowded with forking branches and opposite leaves, which are about 2 in. long, obovate-lanceolate in shape and yellowish-green; the dioecious flowers, which are small and nearly of the same colour but,yellower, appear in February and March; the white berry when ripe is filled with a viscous semitransparent pulp (whence bird-lime is derived). The mistletoe is parasitic both on deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs. In England it is most abundant on the apple-tree, but rarely found on the oak. Poplars, willows, lime, mountain-ash, maples, are favourite habitats, and it is also found on many other trees, including cedar of Lebanon and larch. The fruit is eaten by most frugivorous birds, and through their agency, particularly that of the species which is accordingly known as missel-thrush or mistle-thrush, the plant is propagated. The Latin proverb has it that "Turdus malum sibi cacat"; but the sowing is really effected by the bird wiping its beak, to which the seeds adhere, against the bark of the tree on which it has alighted. The viscid pulp soon hardens, affording a protection to the seed; in germination the sucker-root penetrates the bark, and a connexion is established with the vascular tissue of the first plant. The growth of the plant is slow, and its durability proportionately great, its death being determined generally by that of the tree on which it has established itself. The mistletoe so extensively used in England at Christmas is largely derived from the apple orchards of Normandy; a quantity is also sent from the apple orchards of Herefordshire.

Pliny (H. N., xvi. 92-95; xxiv. 6) has a good deal to tell about the viscum, a deadly parasite, though slower in its action than ivy. He distinguishes three "genera." "On the fir and larch grows what is called stelis in Euboea and hyphear in Arcadia." Viscum, called dryos hyphear, is most plentiful on the esculent oak, but occurs also on the robur, Prunus sylvestris and terebinth. Hyphear is useful for fattening cattle if they are hardy enough to withstand the purgative effect it produces at first; viscum is medicinally of value as an emollient, and in cases of tumour, ulcers and the like. Pliny is also our authority for the reverence in which the mistletoe when found growing on the robur was held by the Druids. Prepared as a draught, it was used as a cure for sterility and a remedy for poisons. The mistletoe figures also in Scandinavian legend as having furnished the material of the arrow with which Balder (the sun-god) was slain by the blind god Hoder. Most probably this story had its origin in a particular theory as to the meaning of the word mistletoe.


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Simple English

Mistletoe
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Santalales
Families

Santalaceae (Viscaceae)
Loranthaceae
Misodendraceae

Mistletoe is the common name for a group of hemi-parasitic plants in the order Santalales that grow attached to and within the branches of a tree or shrub.

Contents

Species

The name was first given to Viscum album (European Mistletoe, Santalaceae), the only species native in Great Britain and much of Europe. Later the name was fgiven to other related species, including Phoradendron serotinum (the Eastern Mistletoe of eastern North America, also Santalaceae).

The largest family of Mistletoes, Loranthaceae, has 73 genera and over 900 species.[1]

In culture and myths

European mistletoe played a large role in Greek mythology, and is believed to be The Golden Bough of Aeneas, ancestor of the Romans.[2] The Norse god Baldr was killed with mistletoe.[3]

In Romanian traditions, mistletoe (vâsc in Romanian) is considered a source of good fortune.

William Shakespeare mentions it in Titus Andronicus, Act II, Scene I: "Overcome with moss and baleful mistletoe".

Mistletoe is often used as a Christmas decoration. Viscum album is used in Europe and Phoradendron serotinum is used in North America. According to custom, the mistletoe must not touch the ground between its cutting and its removal as the last of Christmas greens at Candlemas; it may remain hanging through the year, often to preserve the house from lightning or fire, until it was replaced the following Christmas Eve.[4].

Mistletoe (Phoradendron flavescens) is the state floral emblem for the State of Oklahoma.

Kissing under mistletoe at Christmas

According to a custom during Christmas, any two people who meet under a hanging of mistletoe are urged to kiss. The custom started in Scandinavia.[5][6]

References

  1. WS Judd, CS Campbell, EA Kellogg, PF Stevens & MJ Donaghue (2002) Plant systematics: a phylogenetic approach. Sinauer Associates, Inc., Sunderland Massachusetts, USA. ISBN 0-87893-403-0
  2. Virgil (19 BCE) The Aeneid
  3. Gylfaginning, XLIX On-line text
  4. Drury 1987.
  5. E. Cobham Brewer, Dictionary of Phrase and Fable 1898, s.v. "Kissing under the mistletoe" relates the custom to the death of Balder, without authority.
  6. The WorldofChristmas.net

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