Last day (hooray!) of the mistletoe despatches for the English Mistletoe Shop today. Five weeks of being covered, on harvesting days, with algae from the mistletoe stems and, on despatch days, with slime from squashed berries – and all so that people can enjoy a few kisses. Is it worth it? In financial terms maybe not (don’t encourage your children to aspire to be mistletoe traders if you want them to be wealthy). Though in satisfaction terms it’s well worth it – helping keep ancient traditions alive, keeping Britain kissing and helping conserve old orchards through a mix of mistletoe management and sales.
All season I’ve been pointing out that it’s been another good berry year – with loads of berries on the female (obviously) plants reflecting a good pollination season back in February and March. But the crop hasn’t been perfect – as berries aren’t everything.
The most obvious problem this year was ripening. Mistletoe berries usually swell to full spherical shape (from oval) in late October, and ripen to a white colour (from green) in November (developing to their full translucent pearly white in December). But this season many of the berries seem to have been a month behind, with some still slightly ovoid and a little too green even now, 19th December. A few media reports have suggested this is ‘because we’ve not had enough frost yet’ – which is, of course, nonsense, as usual in many media reports. The truth is much simpler, we didn’t have enough sun this growing season – a simple fact that can be easily demonstrated by comparing the mistletoe on the sunny side of the tree with the more shady side. Guess which side has the most advanced berries? The sunny side does.
And so 2012’s wet summer did affect mistletoe a little after all – though not by reducing berry numbers as some reports would have it (Telegraph and Express, I’m looking at you) but by delaying berry ripeness a little. The seeds in those berries are most ripe, and best for planting, in February or March, so there’s still plenty of time for them to catch up before germination time.
Another curiosity this season has been the amount of algal growth on the mistletoe stems (and sometimes leaves too). Some surface algal growth on mistletoe is common, but this season has seemed exceptional, with hands and clothing often caked in green algal powder after a few hours cutting whilst up a tree. Again I assume this is due to the rather wet season we had last summer, which would have been ideal for algal growth on tree and mistletoe surfaces. We’ve found ourselves having to wash some material to make it presentable for the shop outlet – not an easy task.
And, last but not least, in the orchards we’ve worked in, there have been very large numbers of new seedlings, plus evidence of this season’s seeds already being distributed widely on stems (including on the parent plant – mistletoe has no scruples regarding what host it grows on). This new spread of seedlings, and fresh seeds, may be the result of new activity by our over-wintering blackcaps – over here in much larger numbers then they used to be. And that may be bad news for those orchards – and ultimately their mistletoe.
Proving the blackcaps’ role may be virtually impossible – but something is causing the establishment of excess seedlings… See picture left for an example of seedlings on mistletoe itself – the seedlings are arrowed, but should be obvious as odd branching that doesn’t fit the normal growth patterns.
Commercial break (a word from our sponsors):
It may be too late to buy fresh mistletoe online – but you can still plan on growing your own:
Kits aren’t sent out until February, but you can pre-order now, or you can buy a Grow-Kit Gift Card (4 designs available) to give at Christmas.
Details of all at www.buy.mistletoe.org.uk/growkits.htm