Thursday, 13 December 2012

Missing the Mistletoe

It was a rather drab, grey and damp day when we started a December walk before a late lunch.  To add a bit of interest I proposed that we went on a search for mistletoe.  ‘What’s mistletoe?’ queried my seven year old.  ‘Well it grows high up in the trees, has white funny shaped berries and forms in a large ball rather like an overgrown bird’s nest.’ was my rather inadequate reply. ‘Look upwards and keep your eyes peeled we are bound to see some.’

winter walk

Apples, old mans beard and birds nest in winter

As we pottered along a slight nagging started in my mind.  I could only remember actually seeing mistletoe growing a couple of times in my life (I’m sure there must have been more).  Once was in an old orchard where every apple tree seemed to be host to a large bundle.  I’d also seen some earlier in the year in a snowdrop garden, again in an apple tree.  Perhaps they only grew on fruit trees.  We had seen an apple tree devoid of mistletoe at the beginning of our walk, but we were unlikely to see any more fruit trees.  So holly and Ivy were added to our find and seek festive list.  I was pretty certain that we would be able to tick these off.
We saw a lovely cascade of old man’s beard, high in one tree – a seed head usually found scrambling amongst the hedgerows. We also spotted several large birds’ nests, easily seen in the bare branches this time of year. Our hopes were raised that mistletoe might be close by when we saw what could have been a Mistle thrush at the top of tree.  Its favourite food is mistletoe. Alas its lunch was not in sight. We wondered what was named first the plant or the bird. Can anyone help?
ivy and holly berrries
Tipping your head back and looking towards the sky does bring a different perspective to a ramble. Sure enough we saw many trees covered in ivy and a large bush of holly still holding some of it berries. We were surprised what a lovely shade of plum the berries on the ivy were. They were almost more stunning than those on the holly.

Linear walks always work well because you always see vistas on the return journey you missed on the way out.  And yes, yes in the distance on our way back a large ball of vegetation was spotted in a faraway tree.  At last we could cross mistletoe off our list, but by then my son was busy using the dried stem of a cow parsley as a blow gun. His interest in our Christmas hunt was over.

Mistletoe on Apple Tree

On our return home my research confirmed that the main host plants for mistletoe are apple, hawthorn, lime and poplar trees. Mistletoe is apparently much more common in gardens, orchards and parks than in the general countryside.  At least I was able to show everyone my photos of mistletoe from the snowdrop garden.

We may have another go at this game with some of our walks over Christmas, when the location will be more carefully planned. By adding some more types of berries, such as rosehips, perhaps pine cones and, of course a Xmas tree, and we will have a full blown Xmas hunt to have fun with.

I am linking up this post with Learning for Life and Countrykids where you can find out what other families have been up to outdoors.


  1. Lynda, thanks again for joining in the link up. I think my favourite activity is to lie on the ground looking up at the trees, you always notice things you wouldn't normally see. Kierna

  2. I hope that that was OK. The older I get the more I realise how important trees are.

  3. Do you know I don't think I have ever seen mistletoe growing, only being sold already cut! I did laugh at the improvised gun, just what my children would do and I love the tree tops in black and white, makes a grey day look rather special! Thanks for linking up to Country Kids.

    1. Thank you - I did feel quite proud of my son being inventive with the cow parsley. I suspect that will be a feature of other walks!

  4. What lovely pictures and the description of your walk is so vivid, it felt like I was there!
    we have a lot of trees. We gave one of our fields over to the forestry commission many years ago to plant out in trees, but there has never been a single piece of mistletoe. We have lots of Holly, even some with berries, another thing that's getting rarer apparently. We also have apple trees, but alas again no mistletoe.

  5. Thank you for your comments. I wonder if mistletoe is getting rarer, because of a decline in mistle thrushes. When checking out where it grows I also found out that you can grow your own - though I have never seen seeds for sale.

  6. Sounds like a really lovely walk. I don't think we get Mistletoe growing this far North, but at least it stops me kissing everyone!

    1. I've really loved writing this post as i have found out so much about mistletoe. You are right it mainly grows in the South of UK and West Midlands, with
      particularly good populations in Herefordshire, Worcestershire,Gloucestershire, Gwent and Somerset. Guess you will just have to move if you want a kiss at Christmas

  7. I am in Gloucestershire so really have no excuse not to go and have a good luck for some then.

    Thanks for sharing.


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