The history behind a kiss under the mistletoe

Last minute Christmas bargains are being hurled at Franklin and Gulf County’s citizens through every conceivable mass media channel known to humanity. The retail establishments are packed, and the package delivery services’ abilities are straining at the coming deadline.

The indecisive are now at the panic point where choices must be made or disappointment (and unending recriminations) will result. Merchants, both brick-and-mortar and virtual, are clearing their inventories of items which will soon become after Christmas markdowns. 

Behavior in parking lots has transitioned into a blend of bumper cars and “chicken” with customary civility in short supply. Short of an armored vehicle, no fender is safe.

Fortunately, one tradition that has not changed for centuries is a kiss under the mistletoe.  This parasitic plant commonly found growing in panhandle Florida’s hardwood trees has a long and storied history in religion, folklore, and pagan rites across several continents.

Mistletoe plants can grow in a variety of local hardwood trees, most typically in pecans and oaks.  Across its native range, mistletoe can be hosted by more than 200 different shrubs and trees.

This plant’s sprouts are equipped to utilize available nutrients and water until they are firmly imbedded into a host’s system which will then do most of the work for them. Classified as hemi-parasites, mistletoe does engage in some photosynthesis while deriving much of its sustenance from the host plant.

Mistletoe is easy to spot in the tops of trees which have lost their leaves in autumn.  The growth position in the tree provides mistletoe with several advantages.

Birds are primarily responsible for spreading mistletoe seed, and the plants are an attractive source of food during the winter’s meager months.  The plant’s location in the top of the tree is easily visible to birds and is a safe location for the birds to dine without fear of becoming another creature’s meal. 

Stalks of mistletoe are easily broken with minimum effort. The growth clusters in the top of the trees minimize the possibility of the rather brittle, delicate plants being damaged by larger herbivores looking for a meal. 

As a parasite, heavy infestations of mistletoe are an indication of a tree in decline. The tree’s defenses are helpless against mistletoe’s roots which penetrate the bark and drain vital nutrients. 

Because of its ability to produce fruit and seeds in the winter months and other unique qualities, a number of early cultures credited mistletoe with mystical powers. 

The early residents of Scandinavia had an intricate sacred soap opera revolving around the misuse of mistletoe involving jealousy, envy, and murder.  Even a divine sword was named after the parasitic plant. 

The citizens of the Roman Empire were more inclined to consider mistletoe for its pharmaceutical properties.  The plant could be considered a treatment for a variety of conditions, depending on the physician who was making the diagnosis.

Kissing under the mistletoe was first noted in the early 1500’s, no doubt by a watchful parent keeping a sharp eye on their daughter.  Not surprisingly, the custom caught on and has remained popular for centuries. 

Possibly, more trucks and cars should have a sprig installed over the vehicle before seeking a parking lot space. It might reduce the stress of competing for the last remaining spot close to the business’s front door.

To learn more about this seasonal use of a native plant in Franklin and Gulf Counties, contact the nearest UF/IFAS County Extension Office or visit To read more stories by Les Harrison visit: and follow me on Facebook.


Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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