Extreme harvesting in Ireland

Dublin’s mistletoe is thriving, spreading faster than it used to, but much of it is rather too high to harvest conventionally.  Today’s Irish Times reports on the recent cull/harvest at Glasnevin Botanic Gardens, where the plant has been spreading slowly amongst a variety of host trees since being introduced in the 19th century.

Until recently the spread has been slow, which is normal for mistletoe outside its usual range.  But in the last few years it seems to have started moving from tree to tree more rapidly – for reasons that aren’t clear.  Similar increased spread has been noted in other isolated mistletoe populations  recently too (incl Hampshire, Essex, Surrey and Cambridge) – there’s a summary of all of this in my recent review in British Wildlife (23:1 Oct 2011; 23-31) where possible causes – climate change, changes in bird vectors (e.g. overwintering Blackcaps) are discussed.

In Glasnevin, Dublin, they’re taking the opportunity to manage some of the excess, which can ultimately damage or even kill the host tree if left alone.   And they’re auctioning off the arisings  for Christmas decorations, with proceeds going to charity. But, as the picture shows, they’ve got to go up rather high to reach some of it.

This is, overall, a really good example of integrated mistletoe management – and is something we need to see more of for mistletoe on fruit trees in the mistletoe heartlands of Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Somerset.

But not every landowner can be as organised as a Botanic Garden – many manage their mistletoe rather more randomly, if at all.  If you own land with mistletoe on fruit trees the Mistletoe League Project would like to hear how you do, or don’t, manage it.  Go to www.british.mistletoe.org.uk to take part.



Wholesale prices dropping. And Telegraph features mistletoe

Roll on Christmas! Am rapidly becoming all mistletoed-out now. This week has been very mistletoey – markets, harvesting, talks, media interviews etc. But most of that is over for this season now, so there is a brief mistletoe-free period looming. Only brief though – as mistletoe activities resume in the new year with planting and management projects.

The Tenbury mistletoe auctions this week were a complete contrast to the end of November. Prices then seemed high – unsustainably so – and it’s no surprise that they dropped hugely by this week. Indeed some mistletoe lots remained, I think, unsold, with others only fetching £2 or £3 per bundle (compare this to the £30+ they were fetching 2 weeks ago). Holly prices also fell – also from an unfeasible high a couple of weeks ago.

Media attention has been good this week – the auctions feature in yesterday’s Telegraph, in a piece by Xanthe Clay (left, with Green Santa), who has penned a thoughtful view of the auctions and mistletoe in general. Much more interesting than most of the mistletoe coverage in the papers!

We’ve also had the BBC out in Tenbury – filming a feature for The One Show, due for broadcast next Thursday (22nd) . Another (I hope) thoughtful piece, with footage and interviews featuring harvesting, mistletoe’s form and growth, the druid take on mistletoe, plus scenes in Tenbury town at the Mistletoe Festival’s Mistletoe Outlet and talking with passers-by. Will say more on that when it’s broadcast.

My last mistletoe talk, this side of Christmas, was this week too – next gig isn’t until mid-January, which gives me a chance to redesign the powerpoint show with new pictures from this season  But other mistletoe activities aren’t over yet – more media plus a load of commercial mistletoe work in the next few days…

If ancient druids had fitted sheets that’s what they would have used…

Another Saturday in December, another druid mistletoe ritual.

This time it’s in Gloucestershire, in Arlingham, which is that funny shaped peninsula in the lower Severn that shows up clearly on national maps.  We use it to pinpoint ourselves in the BBC weather forecasts, as we live immediately east of it.

Today’s event was  low-key compared to last week’s ceremony in Tenbury – but that didn’t make it better or worse, just different.

And being different is good – druidry doesn’t, and shouldn’t, work to set rules.

But I’m not going into any details – you have to be there, and describing it doesn’t really work.

What I will mention though is the sheet used to collect the mistletoe, to stop it touching the ground.  Last week a hide was used for this (see pictures in yesterday’s  blog), but tradition suggests a sheet or a hide.

Today we used a sheet – a fitted sheet – which did prompt a couple of comments along the lines of  ‘is a fitted sheet traditional?’.  But have a look at the pictures below – a fitted sheet, with a gathered edge, is perfect for the task.  It significantly reduces the risk of spillage over the sides.  If the druids of old had access to fitted sheets this design is surely what they would have used.  Practical and inexpensive.  Just because Pliny the Elder didn’t mention this detail doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

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Druids, mistletoe and harvesting

Am off to see another druid mistletoe ritual harvest tomorrow – alongside some more conventional harvesting that I’m doing in the same orchard.

It would be a little disrespectful to do both at the same time – as the druid custom insists that the mistletoe mustn’t touch the ground whilst for practical reasons a normal harvest just piles it up on the ground.

So, to avoid the prospect of a great pile of mistletoe ‘leaching away its magic’ into the ground next to the ceremony I think we’ll try and work in the orchard next door, or stagger the timing.

The pic here was taken at the druidic harvest last Saturday, gathering the mistletoe used at the multi-faith ceremony in Tenbury that afternoon.  It’s just one of a sequence of pictures by ‘WR15’ you can view at WR15’s flickr album.

WR15’s blog entry for the day is also worth a read as is viewing his Mistletoe Day video – linked below.

The drummers (Bang On) were new for this season – and they were very good indeed – but they do tend to dominate the soundtrack a bit so the ceremonials are a little quiet in comparison.

If you want to know more about the event have a look at the Mistletoe Foundation website.

Why mistletoe grows where it grows

Mistletoe made it to the BBC’s breakfast programme this morning (ITV did the same last Friday), with their weather broadcast live from Tenbury Wells Mistletoe Auction site, where mistletoe lots are already laid out for tomorrow’s second sale.

The BBC’s weatherman, Alex Deakin, gave a reasonably good (i.e. accurate) account of mistletoe, but he did keep saying that mistletoe is in the area ‘because of the apple orchards’ – which isn’t really true. To be fair it it is a widely-believed myth, based on the undeniable fact that msitletoe does well on apple and is common in the apple growing areas of Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Gwent (see distribution map left – click to enlarge).  But that doesn’t add up to why it’s there.

So why, if not apple orchards, is it so common in this area, and why is it so common within the apple orchards?  Well, the answer to first question is is climate – it grows best in those areas because they suit it climatically.  It’s a pity that Alex, as a weatherman, didn’t pick up on this key factor.

Mistletoe’s distribution in the UK (and indeed the rest of Europe) can be explained with summer and winter temperature minima and maxima studies, which show that it only thrives in areas with particular patterns of low winter temperatures and high summer ones.  Outside these optimal areas it will grow, particularly in parkland and gardens sites, but subtleties of climate limit its ability to spread.  Hence the scattered, but very incomplete, smattering of mistletoe colonies across the rest of England on the map.  It is very rare in Wales and Scotland – but again will grow if encouraged, with little subsequent spread.

The best way to demonstrate that orchards are NOT the cause of this distribution pattern would, of course, be to re-plot that national distribution map with the apple orchard mistletoe data removed – but that’s not yet been done. I must try it with the national dataset from the 1990s survey and see how convincing it is…

And what about apple orchards then – why are they the ‘favoured’ habitat?  The answer to that is that apple happens to be a favoured host, and that as mistletoe only thrives in trees in open situations (i.e. not trees in woods), an orchard layout is ideal.  So an orchard of apple trees in the best climatic area is perfect – ticking all of mistletoe’s boxes.  But so is a garden apple tree, a parkland lime tree (limes are another very good host) or a waterside poplar tree (poplars are good hosts too).  Analysis of the national data shows that mistletoe’s host and habitat ranges are widest within the core climatic area, decreasing progressively (in favour of just apples, limes, gardens and parkland) further away in all directions.  Most of the mistletoe in ‘wild’ habitats (riversides, open scrub, etc) are in the core area.

Things may be changing though – over the last 10 years there have been many reports of increasing mistletoe spread outside the core area, possibly attributable to subtle climate change and/or changing winter bird (particularly Blackcap) populations. For more on this have a look at my review in the October issue of British Wildlife

Mistletoe given to the River, on National Mistletoe Day

A few pictures from today’s mistletoe ceremony in Tenbury Wells, where we had a multi-faith ceremony organised by the Mistletoe Foundation,  which included the crowning of this year’s Mistletoe Queen Anna Günther, accompanied by the Holly Prince and their respective attendants.

Ending, of course, with the ceremonial throwing of the mistletoe, as a gift to the river, into the River Teme.  This is mistletoe that was harvested just this morning, from the last orchard left within Tenbury town, cut according to druidic tradition – not touching the ground and caught in a hide after cutting.

Giving it to the river means that it still hasn’t touched the ground…

Main pic (click to enlarge) shows the Mistletoe Queen (in green) with Suzanne Thomas of the Mistletoe Foundation, in the act of giving.  The dog belongs to to the head-teacher of Tenbury High School (the Queen is the Head Girl) – and is just making sure it’s all being done correctly.   A few more random pics below:

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Dark and frosty mistletoe, if out before 0500

Out early today to talk mistletoe with ITV Daybreak, at one of the Days Cottage orchards in Gloucestershire.  Daybreak were doing the morning weather live from here too – half-hourly updates, with the actual mistletoe interview for just a couple of mins halfway through the programme.  Have done this (helped with early morning TV weather) at other times/other years but not actually in an orchard before (usually at the mistletoe auctions) so it was a bit of a shock to realise just how dark it is at 0500 – kept walking into fences until I remembered there was a torch in the car…

Quite a lot to set up for these OBs – presenter (Lucy Verasamy) plus OB satellite van and engineer, plus cameraman, plus soundman (each with their own vehicle), and for this one, Gary the Rigger, with his rather big generator truck (for lights).  Mostly travelling from London or beyond.  Just as well I knew the site fairly well  – getting that lot rounded up and into a field that they can get out of again (i.e. not get stuck) needs a bit of prep.

This pic is from MattJF’s (the cameraman) gallery at http://yfrog.com/j24uvxrj. It was, obviously, daylight by this time…


Went well, I think.  Weather was good (lovely clear starry skies on arrival) and weather forecasts, with huge chunk of mistletoe, were good too.  Second pic is from Lucy’s gallery here  http://yfrog.com/z/h09ajqvsj

Mistletoe interview good too – though not quite as smooth as I would have liked, not least as trying to fit so much in – the mistletoe celebrations in Worcestershire tomorrow (National Mistletoe Day, Tenbury Wells!) alongside the good crop/bad crop story – you know, the one about how the harvest is looking good this year, but that the outlook for future harvesting is looking ever bleak(er).

For enlightenment on the bleakness have a look at http://www.british.mistletoe.org.uk or download the info sheet (link being added later…)