Plant of the day: oak mistletoe

It is Christmas Eve, and bundles of yellowish-green leaves hang over the doorway–an invitation for lovers and friends to stop and smooch. According to legend, it was actually an obligation to kiss if you met under the mistletoe. A pale white berry would be plucked for each kiss that happened, until the berries were gone and the obligation was ended. Nowadays there seems to be no limit on kisses though–the berry plucking tradition has faded away.

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Of course, these bundles are mistletoe, a classic holiday ornament. There is no single species of mistletoe–it’s a general name for a group of parasitic plants that grow on trees. In Europe, the smooching mistletoe is generally Viscum album. Here in the California, the native oak mistletoe (Phoradendron villosum) is the most common holiday decoration. You can see it growing on oaks, pepperwoods and other trees throughout California. Look for a round clump of foliage on a tree limb, looking like a nest or a shadow or a strange stuck balloon. If you go closer you’ll see the leather, oval leaves and the pale greenish-white berries. The roots of the plant go straight into the branch of its host tree; the two often seem to be indistinguishable, one merging into the other rather like lovers enjoying a holiday kiss…

HAPPY CHRISTMAS EVE!!! I hope everyone is having a great holiday.

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