American Mistletoe
Phoradendron tomentosum, Syn: flavescens = serotinum
Loranthaceae (Mistletoe) Family

There are about 21 genera and over 500 species of mistletoe known throughout the world, but in the Escambia region, we are concerned with only one. The plant is generally seen as an evergreen shrub that lacks roots but has chlorophyll and is attached to and becomes half-parasitic on trees. The flowers are solitary or in clusters in the leaf axils or at the ends of branches. Its preferred habitat is in temperate zones and tropical regions, and is always considered parasitic.

The flowers are usually radially symmetrical in form and bisexual in nature. Most will have sepals that barely develop; 2-3 petals that may be free or united. Stamens number 2-3. All these parts are attached at the top of the ovary.

The leaves are opposite on the stem, or may be whorled, no teeth and no lobes, consisting of one whole part, mostly leathery, or reduced to scales.


 

Fruit is a berry or drupe.

The most common in the Escambia region is that depicted above, which is hung at Christmas time. The genus name derives from the Greek phor "a thief," and dendron, "tree." This refers to its getting at least some nourishment from the tree on which it grows, but lore dictates that when hung over a doorway, it is intended that the host will "steal" a kiss from the ladies passing through. The fruits are covered with a sticky substance that is poisonous to humans, but relished by birds. Birds spread the seed by droppings and through wiping their beaks on branches. The smaller Northern Mistletoe, Arceuthobium pusillum, is not a factor in this area.

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Mistletoe was chosen as the state flower of Oklahoma in 1893. The territory was joining in a tradition as old as mythology itself. Since earliest antiquity these parasitic evergreens and their European counterparts, P. viscum, have symbolized mankind's aspirations and darkest fears.

Shakespeare called it 'the Baleful Mistletoe,' an allusion to the Scandinavian legend that Balder, the god of Peace, was slain with an arrow made of Mistletoe. He was restored to life at the request of the other gods and goddesses. Mistletoe was then given to the keeping of the goddess of Love, and it was ordained that everyone who passed under it should receive a kiss, to show that the branch had become an emblem of love, and not of hate.

The leaves and young twigs are collected just before the berries form, and dried. The plant contains mucilage, sugar, a fixed oil, resin, tannin and various salts. The active part of the plant is the resin, Viscin, which, when fermented, becomes yellowish and sticky. The resinous material is said to have been used with success as an herbal remedy to treat antispasmodic conditions, as well as a tonic and narcotic. While there is no modern medicine to support to total of these beliefs, mistletoe preparations have enjoyed a great reputation for treating epilepsy as well as other convulsive nervous disorders. It has also been employed in checking internal hemorrhage.

     

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