Mistletoe Drones – silly and serious

Today sees the first of the 2014 Tenbury Mistletoe Auctions – and I’m unable to be there. So instead here’s a story (two stories actually – a serious one and a silly one) about mistletoe drones.

The Mistletoe Diary has covered mistletoe drone stories before, notably last year when some ‘interactive artists’ deployed a mistletoe-bearing drone in Union Square, San Francisco.

This year reports of similar initiatives are coming in from all over the place. This is, actually, not all that surprising: ‘Toy’ drones have become really popular, and what better way is there to hang mistletoe over people? No longer do you have to wait until you stand under the mistletoe – now you can make the mistletoe come to you – or to your friend.

One UK example is in TGI Fridays where mistletoe drones will be flying around diner’s heads this Christmas, following a trial at their Manchester store. Their promotional video from Manchester is below.

TGI Fridays say that a survey (whose? when?) has found 47% of Brits have never kissed under mistletoe – and this is their attempt to correct this.

Sadly, of course, they are doomed to fail. Why? Because that’s not mistletoe hanging from the drone – it’s plastic imitation mistletoe, and that’s hardly an inspiration to follow the traditions of the ancients! If you want to revive a tradition then surely you should start by following it! But perhaps this is TGI Fridays style – a little bit plasticky?

Drone used for mistletoe surveying in the Cayman Islands
Drone used for mistletoe surveying in the Cayman Islands

Now, talking of real mistletoe, here’s a story of a proper mistletoe drone – this time a serious story using drones to survey mistletoe. The mistletoe concerned is Dendropemon caymanensis, a rare mistletoe endemic to Little Cayman, one of the Cayman Islands.

Last summer the local Department of Environment teamed up with staff from Kew Gardens in the UK to spot and map out the species by flying a camera drone over the forests it grows in – this being a much quicker way than going in on foot and having to look at every tree. Full details of the project (which completed this summer) are here.  Note (left) the rather more sophisticated drone they are using!

A news report, detailing the, er, limited success of the project is in the video below (if the video doesn’t play click here to view it in a new window)

This sort of approach could also be used in here in the UK – as mistletoe is, as I’ve pointed out in Mistletoe Diary before, one of the few plants that can be mapped from aerial photography. But we have little need of such an approach, as all our mistletoe is fairly obvious from the ground.

Nevertheless the concept is appealing – and I’ve been thinking about using a camera-carrying drone to examine how mistletoe grows in higher trees (without having to climb them) and also to simply take pictures of mistletoe from above – which gives a whole new perspective. But that’s all still on the drawing board for now… (but can you guess what’s on my Christmas list?).


EMShopWant to know more about mistletoe? Visit the Mistletoe Directory page for links to mistletoe information, and to sites where you can buy grow-kits, books and cards…


Mistletoe, Good Luck and War

A typical mistletoe-themed French New Year card
A typical mistletoe-themed French New Year card

Earlier this month I contributed to a local WW1 exhibition with some documents and correspondence relating to my Great Uncle Clifford, who died in July 1918 as a Prisoner of War. He shipped to France on 2nd April and was immediately sent to serve in the trenches but on 27th May, after just 8 weeks at war, he was captured. Several official ‘I am a Prisoner of War’ postcards were sent home and a longer letter written (but never sent). He died from ‘cardiac weakness’ in July – but neither the army nor his family got this news until January 1919. My grandmother, his sister, had been hopefully meeting the troop trains arriving home ever since the Armistice in November 1918 – but her brother had been dead for months. His last letter was in his effects.

What has this tragic story got to do with mistletoe? Nothing directly. But it has reminded me of the use of mistletoe as a good luck motif – particularly in that war. Mistletoe was once strongly associated with luck – and many of the older traditions and legends can be interpreted as suggesting it has some sort of protective role. The popular kissing custom has, today, rather eclipsed many of these older traditions – but 100 years ago more customs may have still thrived. The location of the fighting in northern France and Belgium may have helped as French-speaking areas, even today, still hold on to the custom of mistletoe for luck – a ‘Porte Bonheur’.

Another mistletoe-themed French New Years card
Another mistletoe-themed French New Years card

This tradition was, by the time of WW1, often manifested in France through pictorial postcards, often celebrating the New Year – and also with art nouveau style objets d’art (see some here) often embellished with the phrase ‘au gui l’an neuf’ – mistletoe for the New Year, effectively wishing the recipient a lucky and successful New Year.

During the war a variant of these cards, in the form of the embroidered so-called ‘silk’ postcards, were often used. Such silk cards were a popular item to post home from the front and many with mistletoe imagery, linked to some good luck message, survive.

Postcard home, locally made in France, depicting mistletoe and with a Good Luck message
Postcard home, locally made in France, depicting mistletoe and with a Good Luck message

Here’s one sold on ebay this week. Now, whether the mistletoe imagery was chosen by the British tommy for good luck – or whether the local producers (these were all made in France) simply made them to reflect their own local custom of mistletoe and luck is not known. It could be either, or both.

But I like to think it was both – and that the man in the trenches didn’t just associate mistletoe with kissing – instead seeing it as a luck symbol too.

I’ll finish with this picture of three WW1 British soldiers just about to celebrate Christmas. They are all wearing mistletoe in their hats – and it is perfectly placed for kissing. But, as there was, one assumes, no-one appealing enough to want to kiss, perhaps that mistletoe was actually being worn for luck.

Unconvinced? Just look (like they are) at the chicken – which possesses no mistletoe and is, I confidently predict, now completely out of luck…

Three soldiers and a chicken...
Three soldiers and a chicken…


Want to know more about mistletoe? Visit the Mistletoe Directory page for links to mistletoe information, and to sites where you can buy grow-kits, books and cards…

Mistletoe website, auction and survey news

The new mistletoe.org.uk website design, in the desktop layout

Running late on so many mistletoe matters this season. And hardly had time for blog updates. So here are a few bits and pieces of info, just to get things moving and answer some questions:

Mistletoe crop 2014 – looking good, lots of berries. And, for all those journos who insist on writing silly stories about a berry glut (or shortage, if doom’n’gloom is your forte) being due to a hot/cold, dry/wet, winter/spring/summer/autumn (take a random combo – most journalists do), there is NO definitive cause. So please don’t try to find/invent one. The berries are formed after pollination in early spring, from flower buds formed slowly over the previous summer. Which makes the flower bud formation to mature berry process nearly two years long – and there’s no point in looking to credit one particular season. And no, they won’t all be eaten by the birds before Christmas either (they never are – mistletoe’s not like holly or other conventional berried plants).

Tenbury Mistletoe Auctions 2014 – dates are Tuesdays 25th November, 2nd December and 9th December. And there’s a change of venue. This season they will be at Burford House Garden Store, Burford, Tenbury Wells, WR15 8HQ. Details, as usual, from Nick Champion. Buying or selling? Check out Nick’s guides here – Buying, Selling

The mistletoe.org.uk websites – several are being re-vamped this season (and it’s taking up a lot of my time!) to make sure all are ‘responsive’ site designs, working on tablets and phones as well as on desktop and laptop computers. The latest to get the treatment is the home index page at mistletoe.org.uk. Check out the new design here.

Mistletoe Surveys – the Mistletoe League project – a group of public participation surveys looking into how mistletoe is managed on fruit trees and whether there are fruit varieties more susceptible or resistant to mistletoe – is being re-launched this month. This is also taking up a lot of my time – but there should be some progress to report soon….

Commercial break – the English Mistletoe Shop have just launched a new Grow-Kit website, dedicated to just the mistletoe grow-kits. Aimed particularly at gardeners, though suitable for all of course. Visit it here – it is, of course, a fully ‘responsive’ design.