Mistletoe in Britain – a review paper

BIBpaperimageAlmost the end of January, so it will soon be mistletoe flowering season and, of course, mistletoe seed germination season. That’s one of the many odd things about mistletoe – it flowers and germinates in late winter, the season when most plants are merely beginning to plan such energetic activities.

If you’re interested in reading more about this and other odd mistletoe stuff there’s a new review, published just a month ago, in the journal British & Irish Botany.  It is, as the author (me) says in the opening paragraphs, “by no means an exhaustive review”.  In other words a lot more could be said, but the paper gives, I hope, a reasonable overview of the concepts and issues. It certainly covers a lot of ground and took a while to compile.

There will be, within a few months, another mistletoe review paper in the Journal of Ecology, as part of the Biological Flora of the British Isles series.  More about that one – a collaborative paper – when it’s ready.

Mistletoe sales – a measure of economic recovery?

US economic news organisation Marketplace visited the Tenbury Well Mistletoe Auctions a week or so ago, for a radio broadcast discussing whether mistletoe sales reflect post-covid economic recovery here in the UK. The general feeling at the auctions was upbeat, which is great – though bear in mind this was recorded just before the Omicron variant hit the news.

marketplace1Marketplace’s UK reporter Stephen Beard presents the piece, interviewing auctioneer Nick Champion, Festival organiser Diann Dowell and several buyers. Plus myself, pictured on their website with mistletoe in the back garden here in Gloucestershire.

It’s only a short piece, just over 4 minutes long, and well worth a listen – direct link to it is https://www.marketplace.org/2021/12/13/will-brits-embrace-economic-recovery-under-the-mistletoe-this-christmas/

If you’re curious about who Marketplace are (I certainly was) you can find out more on their website – they are a public service broadcaster with a mission to improve economic knowledge through accessible radio journalism. They say they have

“the most widely consumed business and economic news programs in the country. With more than 14 million weekly listeners on more than 800 local public radio stations nationwide and millions more across our digital platforms, we’ve changed the way people think about the economy.”

So probably worth bookmarking their website (or setting your smartspeaker) for more than the occasional mistletoe story.

Mistletoe at Longney, plus a wannabe Road Runner pheasant

LOngney121221aA quick wander round the orchards at Longney, south of Gloucester, today. These are the orchards managed by the Gloucestershire Orchard Trust – two old surviving orchards, called Long Tyning and Bollow and two newly planted orchards called, less excitingly, Middle and Lower. All adjoining the upper reaches of the tidal Severn.

Today was primarily to see how the mistletoe there is faring – and what management might be needed this winter.

LOngney121221bBeautiful weather, unseasonably mild and with a bit of sun now and then, so no need to dress up warm. There were lots of small growths of mistletoe here and there, much of it showing a good crop of berries, not too much of it and not too little. Just the balance we need – though there will be some pruning in the next couple of months.

In Bollow, the part nearest the river, I was ambushed, as usual, by the sheep who surrounded me as soon as I appeared. Perhaps to say hello but more likely hoping I had brought food. I hadn’t so they were, as usual, disappointed.

LOngney121221cThe next event was more unusual – the sheep were joined by a cock pheasant, behaving as if he was the leader of the gang, vociferously clucking at me all the time. Odd, but just one of those things – or so I thought at first…

LOngney121221fThat pheasant then never left my side for the next 20 minutes, trotting at my heel like a dog, but occasionally lunging at me. Was he hungry or was he being aggressive? He was certainly persistent. If I ran he ran, big wide steps reminiscent of Road Runner but without the Beep Beep. Did he think I was Wile E. Coyote? I tried faux swerves through the trees to shake him off but he always caught up, sometimes even got ahead. Very odd. I do hope no one was watching.

LOngney121221dHe was so persistent and, at times, so threatening (that beak looked sharp!) that I abandoned my plan to investigate the partially fallen mistletoe-laden riverside poplar, for which I would need to crouch down. I wasn’t letting that beak anywhere near my head!

I finally shook him off by returning to the barn in the middle of the orchards and fooling him into a corner where he couldn’t follow easily because of a netting fence.

I never did find out what he wanted – but maybe it was just a peck on the cheek under the mistletoe?


Grow your own peck on the cheek with Mistletoe Grow-Kit from the English Mistletoe Shop.

The tip-jar (new for 2021, not quite sure about this!)

Mistletoe Diary is, of course, free. But every little helps support my miscellaneous missions minimising mistletoe misunderstandings.

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Can mistletoe save the honeyeater?

honeyeater
Picture by Mark Gillow, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

The Regent Honeyeater, Anthochaera phrygia, an Australian bird, was once so common that its call was heard everywhere. Today, following much habitat loss over several decades, plus recent bushfires, it is endangered, with just a few hundred left.

Indeed it is so rare that young males can no longer learn their mating calls, there being insufficient older males for them to learn from.  No mating call = no mating. Which makes a bad situation even more critical.

A local species of mistletoe might help. Not with the mating calls but with food, particularly nectar, the honeyeater’s primary diet (hence ‘honeyeater’). The loss of eucalyptus forests, in which the birds fed on nectar from both the eucalyptus trees and the mistletoes growing on them, has been the main cause of the bird’s decline. More nectar availability would therefore be useful.

But eucalyptus trees, though fast-growing, aren’t fast growing enough for any new planting scheme to have an rapid impact. But mistletoe is. So an initiative in NSW is focussing on propagating mistletoe by hand, gathering the seeds and planting them on the available trees to increase mistletoe numbers. This should increase nectar availability within a few years (these mistletoes must be faster-growing than our mistletoe here in the UK).

This all sounds great, but I do wonder about the sustainability of it. It would seem to be a programme to significantly intensify mistletoe infections – which may not be the best plan longer-term.  But presumably there are tree-planting initiatives too.


You can grow your own here in the UK with Mistletoe Grow-Kit from the English Mistletoe Shop.

Mistletoe Mysteries

There are dozens, possibly hundreds, of novels with mistletoe in the title, though they are, mostly, romantic fiction and I tend to ignore those. But I was reminded, recently, of P.D.James’ The Mistletoe Murder (published in The Spectator in 1991 and in anthology The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories in 2016) and realised I couldn’t remember the plot, particularly the mistletoe bit, assuming there is one. mistletoemurderSo I re-read it yesterday and re-found, to my disappointment, that mistletoe only has a bit part. Indeed the un-named narrator (the inference being it is P.D.James herself, though the biographical details don’t match) acknowledges this from the start, excusing the title on the basis that she likes alliteration. The story is a classic country house mystery with a body in the locked library. The sole role given to mistletoe is a place to hide a key, an action that is given away by the clue of some dislodged berries on the floor below the library door. Which is fine, except that, in reality, mistletoe berries mostly stay in place. But fiction is fiction (assuming of course, that in this case it is…). HangmansholidayTo make up for the disappointment I looked out more stories of mysterious mistletoe misconduct and seized upon The Necklace of Pearls, a story by Dorothy L Sayers (a chapter in the anthology Hangman’s Holiday published in 1933). No mention of mistletoe in the title but it does play a major role. This story is also set in a country house where, after dinner one Christmas, a string of pearls is found to be missing. Lord Peter Wimsey, the aristocrat detective, takes charge and everyone is searched. No pearls are found. But Wimsey works it out. A day or two later he gets his man by showing that the pearls had been pinned to some mistletoe, where they would look just like berries, to be collected at leisure. Ingenious. Though not really that unusual, not for us mistletoe people anyway. When I used to supply mistletoe I often had summer time requests from advertisers doing Christmas shoots for TV or magazines. They wanted real mistletoe, but in August. This could be supplied, no problem, but of course it wouldn’t have the pearlescent white berries that make it extra distinctive. So we would advise them to glue or pin artificial pearls onto the plants, no-one would tell the difference as long as it was only a background decoration.
Grow your own pearlescent berries with Mistletoe Grow-Kit from the English Mistletoe Shop.

Mistletoe sales

Nick Champion’s reports of this season’s mistletoe auctions are now available.  As usual, these don’t give much detail, so don’t get excited: 

First auction, 23rd November 2021

“The mistletoe was of better quality [than the holly] and met a solid demand.”

    • 1st Quality Mistletoe fetched up to £3.50 per kg with an average of £2.50 per kg
    • 2nd Quality Mistletoe fetched up to £1.50 per kg with an average of £1.00 per kg

Second auction, 30th November 2021

“…whilst mistletoe was a firm trade although average prices would be a touch less than last week. A ball of mistletoe achieved £100…”

    • 1st Quality Mistletoe fetched up to £3.50 per kg with an average of £2.50 per kg
    • 2nd Quality Mistletoe fetched up to £1.50 per kg with an average of £1.00 per kg
mistletoetavistock3rddec2021
Mistletoe on sale in Tavistock, Devon, today.

As I said, not a lot of detail.  The most interesting snippet is the reference to a ball of mistletoe sold for £100.  Most of the mistletoe sold at the auctions is cut from natural growths and then bundled up to form the lots.  A ball of mistletoe is a whole growth, uncut, often with the host branch still attached.  Really good versions of these can be very attractive and suitable for big venues; hotels, ballrooms etc.  The main worry with them is their fragility – mistletoe branches are very brittle.  This is not a problem when dangling on a tree but when sitting on the ground they they can be damaged very easily by their own weight.  A few years ago I was involved in shipping these whole growths to clients across the UK – packing them was always a nightmare.  And each one used a lot of ‘FRAGILE’ and ‘THIS WAY UP’ parcel tape.  Never had any complaints though, so we must have done it reasonably well.   

Going back to the auction prices those are, of course, wholesale prices so don’t relate to prices in shops.  Prices in shops might be similar in money, but for much smaller quantities – as the picture above shows – £1.99 for a small bunch, not a kilogram.  And that price is, I would say, very good value.  


Don’t want to buy mistletoe?  Grow your own with a Mistletoe Grow-Kit from the English Mistletoe Shop.

The tip-jar (new for 2021, never tried this before!)

Mistletoe Diary is, of course, free. But every little helps support my miscellaneous missions minimising mistletoe misunderstandings.

£1.00
£3.00
£5.00

Thank you!

Donate

Happy National Mistletoe Day!

berriesAs all mistletoe enthusiasts should know, today,  1st December, is National Mistletoe Day, first announced way back in 2005.  That was when it was put forward, after representations by myself and other members of the original Tenbury English Mistletoe Enterprise team, in an Early Day Motion in the UK Parliament.

It was never taken any further than that at parliamentary level, so perhaps has no formal status. But no-one actually objected, so that was good enough for us.  And 17 MPs signed it.  Which isn’t too shabby.

EDM

gasmaskmistletoephotoI do hope everyone is celebrating in a suitable way, albeit through masks.

If you want to read the whole EDM – and see the full list of signatories – click here:  https://edm.parliament.uk/early-day-motion/29136


No Mistletoe Day is complete without mistletoe.  If you want your own supply in future years you need a Mistletoe Grow-Kit!  Available from the English Mistletoe Shop website at englishmistletoeshop.co.uk

And for more general mistletoe Information visit the Mistletoe Pages website.

Mistletoe Auction Time

trading6The first Mistletoe Auction of the year takes place tomorrow morning, which to many means the proper start of the mistletoe season.

The auctions are run by Nick Champion and are held at at Burford House Garden Centre, Burford, Tenbury Wells, WR15 8HQ.  Details on Nick’s website nickchampion.co.uk but shortcut for buyers is nickchampion.co.uk/site/assets/files/1015/buyers_information_2021.pdf and for sellers (too late for tomorrow now but there’s another next week!) is nickchampion.co.uk/site/assets/files/1015/sellers_information_2021.pdf.

IMG_20211122_145853The berries are already nice and white – and  there’ll be more mistletoe news here soon.

It’ll be mistletoe time again soon

With just a few days until October, we’re yet again at the start of the mistletoe season. So it is perhaps time for a quick review of how things are looking this time round:

As is fairly usual these days, there’s a reasonable crop of berries forming, so it could be another good year for quality mistletoe. This seems to be the norm, and indeed there is research that suggests berry numbers per branch don’t, often, change much from year to year.

mtoe27thsept2021This might seem surprising – but, assuming pollination is successful, shouldn’t be when you consider how the plant grows. Each branch divides into two exactly once a year and each of those two new branches has identical terminal flower buds, every year. So there shouldn’t, logically, be much alteration in number of flowers, for any given section of branch, year on year, as the pattern and number of flower buds stays exactly the same. The main variant will be the amount of insect pollination of each flower in February/March and in the mild winters we get these days insect availability, for this essential role is, it seems, always sufficient.

There are other variables in ‘quality’ of course such as the green-ness of the leaves (many plants are yellowy-green and of less value even with berries) and the legginess of the branches (compact short internodes seem more attractive) and whether male mistletoe (which never has berries) has been mixed in with the female.

All of this is relevant to mistletoe sales, the most well-known of which are the auctions at Tenbury Wells, cancelled last year because of the pandemic. There was, at that time, much talk of mistletoe shortages as a result, but my impression was the reality was different, and there was still plenty of mistletoe to be had. This does highlight the fact that, contrary to popular belief (especially in the media), the Tenbury auctions are not the only way to trade mistletoe! Indeed most of what’s seen in supermarkets and greengrocers may not be from Tenbury at all, and might not even be of British origin. Imports of mistletoe from mainland Europe have been significant since the late 19th century. It’s not all about Tenbury.

That last point might imply new and different trouble ahead – because the UK has left the EU trading bloc. Last autumn the UK was still in the ‘transition period’, not actually in the EU but still with freedom of trade. That ended in January 2021 and new rules on trade are now in place – or would be if the Government didn’t keep kicking them into the long grass rather than tackling the problem they’ve made.

For cut mistletoe, assuming it is classified as a cut flower, the rules are, at first sight, simple. Cut flowers originating in the EU have a zero-rated import tariff, so basic prices should not go up (though 8% tariffs were expected at one point in the discussions). That sounds good, but it’s not quite that simple, as there is still paperwork that wasn’t needed before – customs forms etc. This requires more work, adds more cost and reduces the attractiveness of the trade.

The paperwork might get very onerous if phytosanitary certification is needed. Leaving the EU means that the UK is now longer in the same phytosanitary area and imports and exports of plants or plant parts, may need such certification*. Indeed this was, and still is, the plan for cut flowers, with phytosanitary inspections due to have started last April. Happily, for this Christmas season at least, this isn’t yet needed, as the deadline for starting inspections of cut flowers has, like many other deadlines, been extended, in this case to January 2022.

So there will, in theory, be no major barrier for mistletoe imported from EU countries this season. But I wouldn’t be surprised if less is sent, as the rules, and the constant changing of dates, can be very confusing. This isn’t new, there were trading tariffs and restrictions on mistletoe at many times in the past 100-150 years, but there have been none in recent decades, none in living memory for most traders.

reduced_res_IMG_3776Meanwhile, back at Tenbury Wells, business is, everyone hopes, back to normal this season. Auctions are planned for Tuesday 23rd November and Tuesday 30th November. Run, as usual, by Nick Champion: https://nickchampion.co.uk/auctions/holly-and-mistletoe/


gyo*PS The need for phytosanitary certification is definitely interfering with some aspects of the mistletoe trade. The Grow-Kits marketed by the English Mistletoe Shop for example, like most products sent as seeds for growing, can no longer be sent to the EU or even, at present, Northern Ireland, without individual inspection of each by a UK government inspector, with significant cost each time. There’s no suggestion that they would fail the inspection, but the additional time and cost involves simply makes the process non-viable.

A tale of two mistletoes

There’s a new mistletoe species here at Mistletoe Towers, all the way from Africa originally.  Though this particular set of seeds came from, er, Malvern. 

One seedling germinating
on Euphorbia

It is Viscum minimum, related to our familiar Viscum album, but, as the name suggests, a much reduced plant.  Tiny actually.

I haven’t ever grown it before, though have seen several specimens grown indoors.  For it isn’t an outdoor species, not here in Europe, as its hosts are tropical succulents.   Euphorbias in fact, themselves related to the familiar milky-juiced plants of gardens and woodlands.   In Africa succulent Euphorbias occupy a similar niche to the cacti of North America.  Thick-stemmed, often rounded, plants with minimal leaves, adapted for life in very dry conditions.  They are often mistaken for cacti.

V.minimum, also succulent and minimally-leaved, is a wonderful example of how the mistletoes are adapted to a huge range of hosts.  It lives within the tissue of the Euphorbia, with minuscule succulent leaves of its own, on the host surface.  The biggest features are the flowers, followed by red berries, also close to the host surface.

My plants are, at present, simply germinating seeds, not much to look at yet. Only time will tell if they get established.  So far they look, not surprisingly, very similar to Viscum album seedlings (see pic of one of those on the right).  They are nearly 2 months old now and there are three that look promising.  But none have yet established a hold fast on the host, so nothing is yet certain.

The pictures below show two completely different Euphorbias on which Viscum minimum seeds have been placed.  There are close-ups of the germinating seeds.  Note how much the two Euphorbias have grown in the 2 months I’ve had them.  Much faster growing than cacti.  Though they haven’t been slowed down by the mistletoe yet…