15 Mistletoe Facts For Kids: Details On This Christmas Plant | Kidadl

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15 Mistletoe Facts For Kids: Details On This Christmas Plant

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Mistletoe plants are celebrated as evergreen symbols because of their ability to stay green through winter.

These trees are commonly used to enhance Christmas decorations. This practice caught up with the western world very soon.

There is also a European tradition of kissing under a mistletoe plant Christmas decoration. This tree is also associated with fertility and long life. In some cultures, people hang decorations made from mistletoe trees in their homes to ward away demons and witches. Did you know that the term mistletoe comes from the word 'mistle,' meaning a twig? There are different variants of the plant in North America right now and there are a lot of fairy tales, folklores, movies, and book stories that mention this unique plant.

In the olden days, the bark of this plant was used for wood carving purposes. Some communities also extracted mistletoe oil as they considered this to have medicinal value.

Classification Of The Mistletoe

There are different classifications of these plants you can find around the world. Did you know that there are about 1500 species of mistletoe identified as of now? Most of them are toxic though. Here is a list of the different types of mistletoe plants.

The name 'mistletoe' emerges from a story based on Norse mythology. In this story, Odin's son Balder is killed using an arrow made from mistletoe. Balder was one of the Norse Gods. His mother cries at his death and her tears turn into white berries that cover the mistletoe plant.

Viscum album is the original mistletoe variant that originated in Europe. It is a native of the British Isles. Viscum album was introduced to North America only in the 1900s.

This European mistletoe is characterized by waxy or sticky berries that are white in color with smooth and oval-shaped leaves.

Another variant called the Viscum cruciatum can be found in different countries like Spain, Portugal, North Africa, and South Africa. This variant has red berries instead of the usual white berries.

Eastern mistletoe is the native variant of North America. Scientifically, it is called Phoradendron leucarpum.

North American mistletoe is also called hairy mistletoe or oak mistletoe. The green leaves are leathery and the berries are white.

Dwarf mistletoe belongs to a family called Arceuthobium. This is a shorter version of the regular mistletoe with shorter shoots and leaves, and there are 21 endemic varieties of these found in the United States alone. Did you know that these variants are also called 'witches brooms?'

Most of the species of mistletoe are poisonous to humans. Some variants may be extremely poisonous, while others may be slightly toxic. Some experts are of the opinion that the European mistletoe is more poisonous than the American variant.

Consuming the seed, berry, or leaf of mistletoe may cause problems like vomiting, drowsiness, seizures, and blurred vision.

However, in many parts of the country, people believe in the medicinal properties of these plants and use them externally for treating epilepsy and other skin conditions.

Habitat And Distribution Of The Mistletoe

Being a wild plant parasite, mistletoe has various ingenious ways of spreading and surviving. Check out the below facts to know how this variant grows and sustains.

Mistletoe depends on a host tree for survival. It belongs to a group of species called hemiparasites. These are plants that depend on the host for all their nutritional requirements.

Sometimes, these plants grow so densely on the host plant that they may damage the tree and kill it altogether. That's why homeowners discard them before they start growing in a wild manner when they see mistletoe growing on their trees.

Did you know that the trees that mistletoe grows on usually become weak and unhealthy because all their nutrients are sucked away from them?

Did you know that seeds of mistletoe germinate on the branches of shrubs or trees that they grow on? These seeds can have up to four embryos and these embryos grow stems that connect themselves to the bark of the host trees. Each of these stems becomes a mistletoe plant with a clump of leaves and that's how mistletoe grows quickly.

These witches' brooms, especially ones with clustered branches in dwarf mistletoe, are perfect places for birds to make their nests during winter.

Some of these plants may have no flowers, very small flowers, or really large showy flowers.

In countries where Christmas is very snowy, witches' brooms are used as Christmas decorations because they could be the only green flora found.

In winter, branches of mistletoe appear to be in a dazzling fresh green color in the otherwise white and brown background humans are used to seeing.

How does a mistletoe obtain food?

The way these plants obtain food is very interesting. Unlike what some people assume, mistletoe is not a virus. It is a parasite. It needs nutrients to grow and develop. However, many times, they don't or are not able to produce these nutrients themselves. Here are facts about how these plants get their food.

Some species of mistletoes perform photosynthesis for some part of their life while others don't have this option at all. They have to fully depend on host plants for their survival.

Mistletoe plants that don't perform photosynthesis turn yellow in color with time. This is seen in some varieties of mistletoes. These, after germination, grow mostly with the host tree. After the germination is done and the species is attached to the circulatory system of the host, it starts enjoying the nutrients of this tree, stopping photosynthesis completely.

Since these plants can extract food from host trees, they don't have the problem of drying out in winter. They are evergreen trees.

Did you know that a germinated mistletoe seed, after making contact with the bark of a tree it grows on, takes almost an year to fully attach itself to the bark in order to completely absorb nutrients from the tree?

Some of the common variants of trees that European mistletoe attaches itself to are apples, willows, hawthorns, and poplars. When it comes to American variants, they are most commonly seen on tree species like oak.

This species of hemiparasites are very persistent, which means that it does everything it can to get its nourishment from the host and grow. Unfortunately, it will not care whether or not the host survives.

However, the persistent nature of this species, most often, causes their own death. When a mistletoe grows on a large and expansive tree, it sucks all the energy from the host. After a while, the host is unable to sustain and starts dying. When the host dies, the mistletoe is not able to survive without it.

Most times, after the mistletoe grows large enough, it will be impossible to remove the species from the host. If you want to weed it, you may have to cut the branches and side barks of the tree. That's how strongly they attach themselves.

Mistle thrushes help in spreading seeds of mistletoe berries.

How does a mistletoe reproduce?

Mistletoe is a species that is dioecious, which means it will have either a male part or a female part. Check these interesting facts about their reproduction process.

Just like any other species, a mistletoe reproduces using its pollen. A lot of animals, birds, and insects feed on mistletoe berries, seeds, and branches. By coming to eat these resources, they manage to transmit pollen from one flower to another.

The fact that the sticky seeds easily stick to the paws and bodies of these creatures helps with reproduction greatly too.

Birds love eating white berries from a mistletoe tree, these white berries are filled with seeds. Some of these seeds pass through the digestive system of the bird unbroken and end up coming out in their droppings. These seeds start growing in this location, finding close by trees to grow on.

One of the most famous birds that eat these seeds and help with the spreading of the plant are mistle thrushes. Thrushes are found in Europe, parts of America, Asia, and Australia. Seeds of this plant are also stuck to the beaks of these birds and are dropped in faraway places, helping in their growth.

In the Victorian period, it was believed that mistletoe seeds germinated only if it is consumed by the mistle thrush and passed through its digestive system! This was obviously not true.

How do humans help with reproduction? Most people hang sprigs of this tree in their homes and every time they kiss under the sprig, they remove and throw away a berry. This berry may grow into a new plant in the right circumstances.

Did you know that some species of U.S butterflies depend on mistletoe for their survival? If the mistletoe goes extinct, so will these butterflies.
 

Written By
Lydia Samson

<p>A diligent and driven mass communications graduate from Caleb University, Lydia has experience in media and a passion for digital marketing and communications. She is an effective communicator and team-builder with strong analytical, management, and organizational skills. She is a self-starter with a positive, can-do attitude.</p>

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