If you were lucky this Christmas and found yourself standing under a sprig of mistletoe, you might have been blessed by a kiss. Isn’t that what we all think about when we see or hear about mistletoe?

I don’t have any real mistletoe, but I do have a felted wool cluster hanging from the middle of our family room. It’s not too tough to put yourself in a position for smooching here, if you feel the need for a little love.

Real mistletoe doesn’t grow on trees but that’s where you’ll find it. Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that takes advantage of a tree as its host. Technically, mistletoe is classified as hemiparasitic, meaning it performs some photosynthesis for a short time, independent of its host, but it needs a host to survive.

There are hundreds of mistletoe species, but the one we’re most familiar with has bluish-green leaves and berries that are white when ripe. In the US, you can see mistletoe growing on trees natively in the eastern half of the country and non-natively in the far western states, recognizable by its clumping appearance on the branches.

Mistletoe is spread mainly by birds. The seeds – technically they are drupes, like cherries, peaches, plums, olives, and others – have a sticky substance, called viscin, which helps the seed to stick to a host tree. Birds can transfer the seeds in two ways, either by wiping the pit on a tree branch while eating the berries, or by excreting them.

The custom of kissing under the mistletoe has interesting origins. In earlier civilizations, particularly the Celts and the Greeks, mistletoe was seen as a symbol of fertility. By the 1700s, kissing under the mistletoe became associated with Christmas, a tradition credited to servants in Victorian England. To refuse a kiss while standing under it was said to bring bad luck.

The majority of parasitic plants are considered to be nuisances, and mistletoe is as well. But in reality, it can be an important part of the ecosystem. The leaves and berries provide food for several species of birds and the growing clumps are home to the northern spotted owl and the marbled murrelet (a bird along the North American Pacific coastal areas).

It’s been rumored that mistletoe is toxic if consumed by humans, but in most cases, swallowing several berries will cause no ill effects, not even in children. It’s not recommended to eat them however, as some people can experience intestinal distress from doing so. It’s better to just save the mistletoe for smooching under.

Read more at Kylee's blog, Our Little Acre, at www.ourlittleacre.com. Contact her on Facebook or by email at pauldingprogressgardener@gmail.com.