How can anyone mistake holly for mistletoe?

A quick rant, partly to test whether blogging direct from ScribeFire really works.

In my online mistletoe ramblings, I often come across sites that have holly labelled as mistletoe – and they’re nearly all in the US.  But how can anyone mistake holly – a prickly-leaved red-berried bush/tree for mistletoe, a totally non-prickly small tree parasite whose characteristic species (not all) have definitively white berries.

I don’t know – but perhaps the clue is in my point that “they’re nearly all in the US” (they did elect Dubya, twice!, and now seemed over-awed by someone who looks like a page in a specsavers catalogue – but no, I must keep politics [if that’s what American elections are about] out of this blog!!).

So just who are the culprits on the holly = mistletoe front.  Well, a quick google image search brings up CNN as the first offender – with their ‘mistletoe’ pic coming in the first 5 on google.  Here’s their pic (from this site)
It’s so clearly holly that you have to wonder about CNN’s grasp of both the natural world and traditional customs.  But maybe if CNN are that thick I shouldn’t be surprised about everyone else?

Well, let’s have a quick look at Cafepress, a US-based design-your-own t-shirt, mug, thong etc site which is arguably a bit more grass-roots. 

Is it worse or better than google for ‘holly as mistletoe’ when I run a mistletoe search?  It’s worse, much worse.  First page brings up several holly themed ‘mistletoe’ logos.  Cafepress make it difficult to copy them – but here’s one taken from a screen-dump – and I think the caption sums up the problem nicely…

(Well, I think this scribefire compose/ upload thingie works – but can’t get as many options for image placement compared to direct through typepad…)

September’s striking mistletoe news story

ReducedIMG_5135 Blue Sky mistletoe 2 Copyright Jonathan Briggs
In ancient traditions Mistletoe has often been associated with lightning, partly because of its forked, lightning-like branching pattern (see the pic) and partly because of its growth on old trees, which are sometimes struck by lightning. 

These old traditions have many variants, but usually involve hanging mistletoe in the house, sometimes all year-long, to ward off lightning strikes. 

You don't hear much about this these days… but hey, here's a weird news story from Cambodia, showing that the mistletoe anti-lightning charm is still used there:

Phnom Penh – Often armed with little more than a sprig of mistletoe and some magic words to ward off lightning, superstitious Cambodian farmers annually venture into flat, flooded rice paddies to work, and each year dozens get struck dead, officials said Monday.

The problem is so bad that for the past two years at least, lightning has killed far more Cambodians than landmines, despite it remaining one of the most heavily mined nations in the world.

According to official statistics quoted in the English-language Cambodia Daily Monday, 77 people have died from lightning strikes so far this year compared to nine landmine deaths through to July. In 2007 the paper said lightning killed 45 Cambodians and landmines claimed 26 lives.

Not a very happy tale, but (to me at least) it is fantastic that mistletoe is still being used in this way.  But what species of mistletoe are they using (and does it work?!)?  There are many 100s of species around the world and only Viscum species similar to our own Viscum album has the forked branch effect – so is it just an old traditional association with mistletoe, or is the Cambodian mistletoe one of the forked-branch species?

Well, I'm not sure, and will have to double-check, but I think Viscum album itself may occur as far east as Cambodia – certainly there's at least one subspecies of V album in China.  I'll come back with definitive info soon…

September’s wacky mistletoe product – a £400 kitchen extractor

Just back from the Sheffield Orchards Conference (see blog entry for 3rd Sept) and am full of new ideas and initiatives to take forward in my campaign for better mistletoe management (see 3rd Sept and various rantings from last winter season).  More on all that in due course.

Ikea_worktop But whilst there I was told about Ikea's mistletoe-themed kitchen worktop – which, of course, I just had to investigate.  I assumed it was just one of those vague mistletoe-green items ( like those weird 'mistletoe-scented' candles you can buy at Christmas – which are really just a sort of mistletoe green – the scent is nothing to do wth mistletoe at all). 

But to my surprise I found that it really is mistletoe-themed – a reversible (green one side, white the other) mistletoe foliage patterned surface.  But why?

Ikea_extractor Even odder is that the only matching item I could find by searching the Ikea website is this 'free-hanging extractor hood'  – which is designed for hanging over your kitchen island hob and contains lights and an extractor unit (capable of processing 274 m³/h and controlled, lights and fan, by the dangling stick).  Click the image to see the mistletoe pattern.  

But why mistletoe?  And why this hood unit? Especially as this extractor hood retails at £429.00.  And just who wants a mistletoe-themed kitchen – other than me, obviously.  

I must say that I do rather like it but I

  • a) don't have an island hob to hang this over and
  • b) couldn't afford it even if I had

2008/9 Mistletoe blogging


If you’ve dropped by looking for news about mistletoe for the 2008/09 mistletoe season you’re in the wrong place.

I’m using the typepad site again this season (don’t know why – I have to pay them and Blogger is free, so maybe I’ll return here soon). But for now point your browser thisaway for mistletoe news…

Druid mistletoe events 2008

1Breduced A quick update for those keen on knowing about druidic mistletoe events.  The Mistletoe Foundation's mistletoe event for 2008 is unlikely to be in Tenbury Wells as part of the Festival/Auctions this time (so not like the last 3 years). 

Instead the suggestion is that the event will be more like the 2004 Mistletoe Foundation event in the Forest of Dean (for info see the reviews on the MF site and/or my blog entries about that time). 

More on this soon – here and on the MF website.

Some public mistletoe events 2008/9

No further news on Tenbury Mistletoe Festival events yet but here are a few that I'm involved in and that will be open to the general public (so not counting those organised by local societies etc, that may only be open to members – will add any of those that are open to the public later):

11th October 2008 As part of the Big Apple Autumn Weekend 2008
Living with Mistletoe. One hour pruning demonstration by Chris Fairs of Bulmers and Jonathan Briggs of Mistletoe Matters, in young and old orchards at Pixley House (GR663383) 11.30am and again at 2pm.  No charge.

5th December 2008, As part of WorthAttention's winter events programme
Mistletoe in Art and Science, Jonathan Briggs, 19:45 – 21:00 Details and costs from here.

31st January 2009
A Mistletoe Meander at Much Marcle.  A Plantlife Event with Jonathan Briggs.  Details to be announced.

Orchards & Groves – a conference with a dash of mistletoe

Orchardwithmtoe Off to Sheffield next week for a conference on Orchards and Groves: Their History, Ecology, Culture and Archaeology.  It's at Sheffield Hallam University – and should be a good chance for the great range of people involved in traditional orchards to get together and compare notes – on what's going well, and badly, in traditional orchard conservation. 

It's a complex and growing field, with loads of stuff going on (next month's Apple Day celebrations give a flavour, often literally, of some of the work) but there's still a lot more to be done.  Traditional orchards of all sorts (not just Apples) need much more active protection and (this is most important!) active use if they are to survive.  Protection doesn't, in itself, help – there is a real need to get the trees managed and the fruit used – these orchards are a key part of the UK's heritage in every sense – farming, history, landscape and biodiversity.

Nationalhabitats This is a mistletoe blog, not an orchards one – and I won't pretend to be an expert on orchards – browse around Common Ground's website and the National Orchard Forum for more on orchards themselves.  But mistletoe does grow best on apple trees, and orchards and gardens are its favourite habitat (click on the graphs on the left for more info on this) – so I do keep a close watch on orchard affairs.

I'm speaking at the conference (programme here for those interested) on mistletoe – it's place in culture, history and orchards, and I'll be promoting the theme of mistletoe management I started up last year.  I'll say more on this later this season but the key point is that Christmas mistletoe supply is closely linked to mistletoe growing in orchards – and neglect and/or misguided management is leading, ironically, to many older orchards getting overgrown with mistletoe – to the detriment of the host apple trees and ultimately the mistletoe too.  Orchard mistletoe needs a lot more active management – and there is a real risk we'll lose it all if we don't sort this out soon…