The Mistletoe Boats

Reproduced full size below the text…

Going through old trading accounts of mistletoe ( as I am today, compiling some figures for a research paper) I’m often surprised at the attention given to mistletoe imports, once acknowledged to be the main source of Christmas mistletoe in Britain.  Yes we do grow our own, and do still cut and sell our own, but there was once and probably still is a flourishing trade in imports, mainly from France.

Newspaper coverage of these used to dominate mistletoe stories at Christmas, with comparatively little attention paid to the home-grown stuff.  It’s not clear why this is – whether the imports really did outweigh the home-grown stock so much or whether a boat-load of mistletoe was simply a better story.  So it may have been selective reporting.

Whatever the reason these stories have died down in recent years, with most media attention paid to home-grown mistletoe, especially that sold at the Tenbury Wells Mistletoe Auctions.  This is also selective reporting as there is much sold by other means and a lot still imported.

But getting a complete picture is virtually impossible – not least as there are no trade restrictions and so no need to document imports from France.  This may well, of course, change soon as the UK moves out of the EU transitory arrangements in 3 weeks time!  Almost certainly not for the better.

It’s worth noting that trade tariffs for mistletoe imports are not unprecedented – indeed in the 1930s and 40s there were import licences on most cut flowers including mistletoe.  These were often relaxed seasonally for mistletoe – but sometimes only a week or so before Christmas thereby raising prices up to that point.  Who knows what 2021 will bring??

Much of the newspaper coverage of imports concentrates on simple figures – wowing the reader with tonnages, numbers of mistletoe-filled crates, etc.  But there are occasional longer reports, and some quite hair-raising stories of decks piled high with mistletoe crates.

This cutting is from 17th December 1936, and is written by (or as if by) ‘Mademoiselle Marie’ a French lady travelling by ferry across to England.  It’s a neat account, right down to the detached white berries rolling around the quays and decks, a vision familiar to anyone who has prepared mistletoe in bulk.  [whilst they’re rolling they’re fine, it’s when you tread on them that the fun begins as they stick to your shoes, and later on to the carpet].

Have a read (reproduced full size below); it sums up the whole business in France, when mistletoe was cut deliberately to control it and sold to le britannique crédule for profit.  The only thing I’d query is the mention of the children dressed as guisers in Edinburgh.  Mademoiselle Marie says she’s told ‘guiser’ is derived from Gui, the French for mistletoe.  This seems not only unlikely but at odds with the normal explanation of the term, often used at Halloween these days, as simply a shortened version of disguisers –  i.e children dressing up in costume.


Mistletoe Information: for general mistletoe info visit the Mistletoe Pages website.

And for UK mistletoe books, cards or kits to grow your own mistletoe visit the English Mistletoe Shop website at englishmistletoeshop.co.uk

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