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Mistletoe TimePosted Thursday, December 8, 2011, at 10:44 AM
Photo by Steven Foster For photo prints, go to www.stevenfoster.com/prints.html
"Pick yonder mistletoe that grows without roots upon the trees, go to the edge of the forest 'round the temple and hang mistletoe about the forest. Stand hidden and waiting near the mistletoe. When the young men come from the forest to bring food to the temple at night passing under the mistletoe, step out, and they will clasp and kiss you. Scream lustily and they will be yours, sealed with a kiss."
In Scandinavian tradition mistletoe was hung over doorways as a talisman. If an enemy entered beneath the mistletoe they would be friends as long as they were in the house welcomed with an embrace or a kiss under the mistletoe. After the spread of Christianity, whatever the ancient origin, this custom was added to Christmas festivities. It was largely forgotten in the early modern era until resurrected in 1820 in the pages of Washington Irving's The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. "The mistletoe is still hung up in farm-houses and kitchens at Christmas, and the young men have the privilege of kissing the girls under it, plucking each time a berry from the bush. When the berries are all plucked the privilege ceases."
These are just a few among many tales of the ancient traditions surrounding the mistletoe myth.
There are upwards of 1000 species of mistletoe -- photosynthetic hemi-parasitic brittle shrub-like plants that produce their own chlorophyll, but derive nutrients and water from a host tree. Here in Arkansas, we have Phoradendron serotinum (also known as Phoradendron leucarpum).
For reasons unknown, uncommon in western Carroll County, it is common in much of Northwest Arkansas. Often growing high in the oak treetops, the established Ozark means of harvest is to forego a ladder or cutting a tree limb and simply harvest mistletoe with the careful aim of a shotgun. The same shotgun may also be used to secure the subsequent marriage.
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Steven Foster is a world renowned botanical photographer. He has published many books, including 2 for National Geographic
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