Traditions. Many of our families have them. You may remember my last column talked about the “new” Parmenter tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving somewhere in the desert – dinner by lanterns and headlamps, turkeys and sweet potatoes in Dutch ovens.
That one actually turned out wonderfully, as we all enjoyed the last moments of sunlight and warmth that were gobbled up by the glowing campfire.
And, if you have been a reader of this article for a while now, you may remember me, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, discussing the tradition of the Parmenter family Christmas tree. Or, more specifically, the length of time the family Christmas tree graced our living room.
As you reflect on your own traditions, don’t forget about some of the others.
Like, why we kiss underneath a parasitic plant.
Mistletoe can be found throughout the world; however, in Colorado, we typically see five different types that affect our conifers, all within the genus Arceuthobium (there is also a less destructive species – Phoradendron juniperinum – that can affect junipers). These dwarf mistletoes produce root-like structures that have the ability to grow through the bark and into the wood where they extract water and nutrients from the host plant. As the plant grows it can produce a witches’ broom. This distortion is much more visible to the human eye, and with closer examination, one can see the yellowish-green shoots of this parasitic plant. If left, the mistletoe can eventually kill the host plant.
As a refresher, we are kissing under a parasitic plant that can kill trees. Not bad. I could live with that on my conscience.
Mistletoes are dioecious, meaning the plants are either male or female. The berries (fruits with seeds) that the females produce are attractive to birds and, hence, can be spread long distances. In fact, mistletoe is a combination of two Anglo Saxon words: “mistel,” meaning dun, and “tan,” meaning stick.
Mistletoes also can disperse their seeds by explosion. Amazingly enough, the sticky seeds of the Arceuthobium species can be shot out of the fruit at speeds near 60 mph. These sticky seeds adhere to nearby trees, penetrate the tree’s bark, and the life cycle continues.
But back to why we kiss under it. Many historians believe that the tradition can be traced back to Norse mythology and is associated with the goddess Frigg and her son Baldr, who was the second son of Odin. Baldr apparently had a bad dream, which freaked his mother out, because if he died, then all life on Earth would end. So she took it upon herself to seek a promise from every animal and plant not to harm her son.
Unfortunately, Baldr had one enemy – Loki (god of evil) – and through great persistence, Loki found the one plant that Frigg easily overlooked: mistletoe. Loki made an arrow of the mistletoe, which was eventually shot at Baldr and killed him.
To make a long story short (Really, it’s a great story. Baldr’s blind brother is the one who shot him, Baldr was ceremonially burnt upon his ship, his wife threw herself on the funeral fire, as did his horse, etc. – the makings of a holiday blockbuster.), the tears shed from Frigg turned into the mistletoe’s berries and she decreed that mistletoe would never be used as a weapon. And like all good stories, Baldr is brought back to life, and Frigg says if people stand underneath mistletoe, then no harm will come to them. In fact, they will receive – you guessed it – a kiss.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 382-6464. Darrin Parmenter is director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office.