Kentish mistletoe

What is it about Kent and Mistletoe? Since the recent National Trust news story highlighting the risk to mistletoe supplies due to the loss of old-style apple orchards I’ve been fielding regular enquiries from Kent newspapers and Radio journalists about the assumed loss of mistletoe there. And I always have to tell them that, actually, they’ve not lost much of it – as they never had much in the first place.

The confusion arises because Kent was quoted in the NT story as an area that has lost 90% of apple orchards, and as the main story was about how mistletoe relies on apple orchards, 2 + 2 were duly put together, and people assumed Kent must therefore have lost masses of its mistletoe.

A reasonable assumption in the circumstances.  But actually mistletoe has always been a relative rarity in the east of Britain, with just a few pockets of growth, in a few orchards and a few country estates (where it would be mainly on lime trees).  So it was a teeny bit misleading to quote the Kent statistic in the NT story.

So just where is the mistletoe in Kent?  Well, there are a few good locations:

From country estate/parkland the best bet is probably Penshurst Place, where it grows on several trees in the grounds (lots of suitable habitat – see aerial pic, left), and is very obvious high in the limes as you approach – I’ll try to find a pic.

You can buy it from the Gift Shop/Plant Centre here too – probably the only place you can guarantee your mistletoe is ‘Kent-grown’.

Orchard mistletoe is a bit less easy to find, but there’s some around Chilham (where it also grows in other trees), and it is seems to be actively encouraged by the proprietors of Rough Old Wife Cider who have several acres of traditional cider apple orchards.  There’s a recent BBC TV feature about those orchards here

But on the whole mistletoe is, and probably always was, a rarity in Kent.  A few new populations might arise.  Back in February 2006 (see Mistletoe Diary for 13th Feb 06 and 25th Feb 06)  I worked with the promoters of the Down House World Heritage bid to encourage new populations in Downe village and around Down House.  It was here that Charles Darwin wrote, albeit briefly, about mistletoe in On the Origin of Species.  Whether he had local mistletoe available at the time is unrecorded, but we tend to (though with no evidence!) assume he probably did.

Kent is also beginning to feature in imaginative  ‘statistics’ about imports – some recent media reports have stated that “95% of mistletoe sold in Kent now comes from abroad”.  Which might be true, but there aren’t any real data to prove it one way or the other.  That 95% figure has been made-up.  But, since Kent has never had much mistletoe, but does have strong transport links with France (where most mistletoe imports come from), it seems fairly likely that most mistletoe sold in Kent has always been imported.  Not a new phenomenon there at all.

Not all ‘mistletoe’ in Kent is what it seems either.  I had hoped the new ‘Mistletoe Court’ development in Gillingham might be named for some obvious, unusual, mistletoe colony nearby.  But no, it seems to have got its name because it’s in Christmas Street…

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