Not-so-wild but fairly western mistletoe

How far west can mistletoe grow in Britain? The main population is in the south-west English Midlands, overlapping into eastern-most Wales in Monmouthshire. But despite this being western-ish (this is definitely west of Britain’s geographic centre) it is not really a western plant, being quite rare in Devon and Cornwall, and in the rest of Wales. There are a few isolated populations, here and there, but they can be hard to find.

And those odd populations may not be ‘wild’ as they are so far outside the species natural range they are probably planted, though often many decades ago. Indeed a few are known to be over 100 years-old, the date of planting being known, with the whole colony arising from that one historic action.

Llanerchaeron - mistletoe on apple trees in the walled garden
Llanerchaeron – mistletoe on apple trees in the walled garden

I’m always on the look-out for new examples and so was very pleased (and surprised!) to come across a new one today, on old apple trees in the walled garden of Llanerchaeron, near Aberaeron in Ceredigion. When I say ‘new’ I mean new to me, I’m sure the National Trust, who run the place, are already well aware that they have mistletoe. But it was a particularly interesting find for me, as it is very western indeed, possibly one of the most western I know.

Aberaeron itself is way out west, with the Llanerchaeron estate a little to its east, and today’s mistletoe is at UK grid reference SN480601. That’s an Easting of 2480, which is most definitely a very western Easting. How does this compare to other western mistletoe populations? Fairly well actually. The most obvious one to compare it to is the small population at Cotehele, another National Trust-owned historic estate, away south in England on the Cornish/Devon border, overlooking the Tamar Estuary. The mistletoe there is acknowledged to be some of Britain’s most western. But could today’s mistletoe be even further west? Has the west just been won by Llanerchaeron mistletoe?

Llanerchaeron - detail of mistletoe on apple trees in the walled garden, with berries just beginning to show white
Llanerchaeron – detail of mistletoe on apple trees in the walled garden, with berries just beginning to show white

Back to grid-references and calculations… The mistletoe at Cotehele, also on old apple trees, is at SX422685, which makes an Easting of 2422. This means, ever-so-slightly-disappointingly, that today’s mistletoe doesn’t win. Cotehele is 5.8 kilometres further west. Cotehele wins, but not by much.

And was today’s mistletoe natural – i.e a wild population? I doubt it. It’s in a classic location for planting, a big country estate with an apple orchard. Plus the plants don’t look very old, maybe less than 20 years, and I know that some NT staff have been planting it here and there.

The Cotehele population is fairly recently established and perhaps this one is too. Though you can never be too sure of these things. There are remnant historic orchards in the Tamar valley near Cotehele that have a little mistletoe, and there is mistletoe in gardens just upstream at Calstock and across the river at Tamerton. Which was there first? All are very close together as the Mistle Thrush flies.

That’s the situation as I understand it near Cotehele, so perhaps there’s more in the area around Aberaeron…. I’ll have to come back when the trees have lost their leaves…

Edited to add: 

A map, for those who are unsure where these places are… The two red crosses mark the two sites, the top one is Aberaeron and the lower one Cotehele. Locations are only approximate on this scale!


Commercial break…  East or West, why not grow your own mistletoe?

If you want to grow your own mistletoe, east or west, a good way to start is with a mistletoe grow-kit from the English Mistletoe Shop… 

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