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Oklahoma Outside


The mistletoe plant has been celebrated in cultures throughout history for its evergreen properties.


ChristmasKisses O





h, by gosh, by golly, it’s time for mistletoe and holly...” Sinatra’s smooth voice rings out, a sure sign that the holidays have returned. At Christmastime, bunches of mistletoe—with its dark green leaves and waxy white berries—hang in doorways, beckoning couples to stop underneath for a quick kiss.


One might be surprised to fi nd that the Christmas icon is actually a parasitic plant. According to Allan Storjohann, host of KRMG radio’s gardening show, mistletoe spreads when birds eat its berries. The berries pass through the bird and when the droppings land on a tree limb, the seeds germinate within the bark. The plant draws nourishment from the sap of its host and can weaken it but usually doesn’t kill it. Mistletoe grows in most regions of the United States, often in elm and oak trees. Although abundant in Oklahoma, Storjohann recommends using artificial mistletoe as a Christmas decoration because of the plant’s poisonous properties. While the Christmas kissing tradition is familiar to most, the plant has much historical signifi cance that is not as well known. A variety of legends about mistletoe have developed through the centuries. “The Druids believed that a drink from the berries,


which are actually poisonous, could restore fertility to barren animals. They saw mistletoe as a symbol of strength and vitality because it stayed green even in the depths of the winter,” says Tom Smith, extension educa- tor and county extension director for Pushmataha County and Southeastern Electric Cooperative member.


8 WWW.OK-LIVING.COOP


The mistletoe plant has much historical signifi cance that is not well known By Laura Araujo


“Ancient Greeks believed its presence in the doorway would ward off evil spirits,” he says. Dee Nash, Oklahoma-based author and gardener, says the evergreen was viewed as a cure-all for various ail- ments and as a symbol of vitality and virility in Greco- Roman mythology. “They believed it had vitality powers because it was alive during the winter,” she says. “They didn’t realize it was sucking the life out of the tree.” According to Smith, the custom of hanging mistletoe as a doorway decoration at Christmas had become popu- lar by the 1800s. The tradition, mentioned in the writ- ings of Charles Dickens and Washington Irving, held that if a couple kissed under the mistletoe they were fated to be wed. And a single girl who was kissed under it would marry in the following year. For Oklahomans the mistletoe plant is associated with more than the Christmas holiday. In the late 19th cen- tury, even before statehood, the territorial legislature adopted mistletoe as Oklahoma’s official floral em- blem—a distinction it still holds today. Just as the Druids and Ancient Greeks valued the plant for its year-round vitality, early Oklahomans chose the plant as the state fl oral emblem because it was alive dur- ing the harsh winter months. “Living in Oklahoma was a tough existence back then.


The land was covered with impenetrable scrub oak for- ests. They were hard to even walk through,” Storjohann says. “When the Tribes were relocated here and their members passed away, they didn’t have anything to decorate the graves during the winter and early spring. They used mistletoe because it was green year-round.” So this holiday season, as you “pucker up” for a


Christmas kiss, maybe it will mean a little more than in years past.


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