Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Mistletoe is the common name for various evergreen parasitic plants of the families Loranthaceae and Viscaceae, especially "European Mistletoe" Viscum album and "American Mistletoe" Phoradendron flavescens, with waxy white berries and smooth-edged oval leaves in pairs along the woody stem.
The species grow on a wide range of trees, and can eventually prove fatal to them where infestation is heavy, though damage more commonly only results in growth reduction.
The "Common" Mistletoe (Viscum album) from Europe is spread by birds (especially the Mistle thrush) who eat the berries; the seeds are excreted in their droppings and stick to twigs or more commonly the bird grips the white fruit in its bill which squeezes the sticky coated seed out to the side which the bird then wipes clean on a suitable brance. The sticky, gum or "Viscin" hardens and attaches the seed firmly to its future host. The word may be related to German Mist, another word for dung; but Old English mistel was also used for basil.
Uses & mythology
The leaves and young twigs are the parts used by herbalists, and it is very popular in Europe, especially in Germany, for treating circulatory and respiratory system problems as well as for tumors, even malignant ones.
Mistletoe figured prominently in Norse mythology (whence the modern Western custom of kissing under bunches of it hung as holiday decorations)—the god Baldur was killed with a weapon made of mistletoe—and Celtic mythology and in Druid rituals. It was considered an antidote to poison, but contact with its berries produces a rash like poison ivy rash in people who are sensitive to it (as many are), so the whole plant came to be thought of as poisonous.
Mistletoe has sometimes been nick-named the "vampire plant" because it can probe beneath tree bark to drain water and minerals, enabling it to survive during drought (see vampirism).
Nowadays, mistletoe is commonly used as a Christmas decoration the species Viscum album being used in Europe while in North America, several species in the related genus Phoradendron are used instead.
The contents of this article is licensed from www.wikipedia.org under the GNU Free Documentation License. Click here to see the transparent copy and copyright details