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Mistletoe is a mysterious, parasitic holiday tradition plant

Mistletoe has been used as a Christmas decoration for centuries. Its dark green foliage and white berries symbolize peace and love.

The Norse belief may have been the origin of this symbolism. It was said that men who met in battle under mistletoe would stop their fighting, kiss and make-up.

The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe may have also originated from the Druids who considered the mistletoe sacred. They believed that it held magical virtue and was a remedy for evil.

Mistletoe is not a typical plant. It is a parasite that lives in the tops of trees. It sends out roots which penetrate the bark and enter the water and nutrient conducting tissue of a tree. After a young plant is established it grows very quickly and can live ten years. Eventually the tree weakens and will decline in health.

Mistletoe is difficult to control because a portion of it grows into the tree’s tissue. Breaking away the mistletoe is ineffective. The most successful method of control is to remove a chip of wood at the point of attachment. If mistletoe is on a small limb, the entire limb should be pruned about one foot below the point where the mistletoe attaches.

Today, mistletoe is a fun holiday decoration and tradition. Most people don’t realize that it is harmful to trees and has poisonous berries. Mistletoe should be kept out of reach of small children who may be tempted to eat the berries.

Somehow I can’t visualize the Norse warriors kissing and making up under the mistletoe, but I always have a sprig hanging in my home at Christmas.

Rebecca Bates is an MSU Extension-Lincoln County agent, and can be reached at 601-835-3460 or by e-mail at rebecca.bates@msstate.edu.