September’s striking mistletoe news story

ReducedIMG_5135 Blue Sky mistletoe 2 Copyright Jonathan Briggs
In ancient traditions Mistletoe has often been associated with lightning, partly because of its forked, lightning-like branching pattern (see the pic) and partly because of its growth on old trees, which are sometimes struck by lightning. 

These old traditions have many variants, but usually involve hanging mistletoe in the house, sometimes all year-long, to ward off lightning strikes. 

You don't hear much about this these days… but hey, here's a weird news story from Cambodia, showing that the mistletoe anti-lightning charm is still used there:

Phnom Penh – Often armed with little more than a sprig of mistletoe and some magic words to ward off lightning, superstitious Cambodian farmers annually venture into flat, flooded rice paddies to work, and each year dozens get struck dead, officials said Monday.

The problem is so bad that for the past two years at least, lightning has killed far more Cambodians than landmines, despite it remaining one of the most heavily mined nations in the world.

According to official statistics quoted in the English-language Cambodia Daily Monday, 77 people have died from lightning strikes so far this year compared to nine landmine deaths through to July. In 2007 the paper said lightning killed 45 Cambodians and landmines claimed 26 lives.

Not a very happy tale, but (to me at least) it is fantastic that mistletoe is still being used in this way.  But what species of mistletoe are they using (and does it work?!)?  There are many 100s of species around the world and only Viscum species similar to our own Viscum album has the forked branch effect – so is it just an old traditional association with mistletoe, or is the Cambodian mistletoe one of the forked-branch species?

Well, I'm not sure, and will have to double-check, but I think Viscum album itself may occur as far east as Cambodia – certainly there's at least one subspecies of V album in China.  I'll come back with definitive info soon…