This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V26", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
I cannot let the opportunity pass without sending you the following notes on mistletoes. I am prompted to do so on reading an extract from your reference to Phorasendron at a recent meeting of the Academy of Sciences, Philadelphia.
You will find my notes extended in various directions, and did not always bear fruit. It is a good many years since I was apprenticed to an uncle in one of the midland counties of England, said uncle being a strict disciplinarian, often not very communicative, but generally willing to impart information, if asked - provided he was not asked the same question twice. This brings me to the mistletoe. On the corner of a vine border, there grew a remarkably vigorous Keswick Codling apple tree. At the time I refer to, the tree was about sixteen years old, on which there was a bunch of mistletoe growing, said bunch being from two to three feet in diameter, nearly spherical. Just such a one as would have made the perfection of a kissing bush; such a bush I have never seen since. The whole stems were of the richest green, not of that sickly yellow hue so often seen in ordinary mistletoe. The leaflets (keys, we boys used to call them) were large and fat; the berries were not in great numbers, but of the size and translucency of the largest white Dutch currants. The value of this bush was beyond price to us boys - there were three or four of us - so far as this, if we ever touched that mistletoe to break a limb, or steal a berry, our slate would be full, and we would have to leave.
With longing eyes, about Christmas, we often gazed on the mistletoe so oddly beautiful. I must also tell you about the apples. The tree was particularly vigorous, and fruited every year. The good living in the vine border and close proximity to a sewer drain, afforded the apple tree all the luxuries of life; and so far as the mistletoe affecting the vitality of the tree, there was not any sign of its so doing. Well, the apples this tree bore were marvellous for size and finish; such apples I have never seen; as large as good Lord Suffields, with a sulphury yellow skin. On the exposed sides were clouds of bronzy salmon and gold, the flesh as white as snow, and even sweet; yes, sweeter than Keswick Codlings were known to be, so it seemed to us, as sometimes in the very early morning, when we found a fruit or two on the ground. But to the mistletoe. Some time after Christmas, when the poetry of the plant had had a more than usually happy innings in the season's festivities, I ventured to ask my uncle some particulars about it and how to propagage it. I was told the plant, botanically, was Viscum album, a parasite - and could be propagated by grafting the berry in the bark, but was referred to Don for further information, except that some day I should be shown how to graft it.
I well remember it was a long wait, but dare not mention how impatient I was. At last, one dinner-time, late in February, I saw my uncle looking round the mistletoe bush picking off here and there a berry. Commanding me to get a piece of netting, such as was used to make women's caps of that period and a few strong pieces of matting (bass), which I did with great pleasure, following anxiously after my uncle until he came to an apple tree. The variety of apple, I can distinctly remember, was " Irish Peach,"where he at once made a V shaped incision, with the upper end of the J\ at the bottom, lifting up the bark and placing in each lower corner a berry of the mistletoe, pressing down the bark, tying over the net to keep the birds from picking out the seed, and slightly binding with the matting to keep the net in place. This was repeated several times, I noticing that each position was the same, viz., on the north side of the tree, being told the sun would not dry out the seed, and that the germ lived on the viscid pulp around the seed until it had taken. How impatiently I watched for the signs of growth, which did not occur until quite late in April, and then but slow was the progress.
The most growth made by any of these during that summer was not more than can be seen in a good sized pea just before it makes its appearance out of ground, or after being sown say forty-eight hours. There were two almost perfect cotyledons, and a sucker formed radicle of about the same length. But the next year's growth showed quite a difference, commencing, as it did, towards November and growing steadily until May, or perhaps later. My curiosity prompted me to make many experiments, as I was told it would grow only on apples, pears, thorns and poplars, with a few very rare instances of its being found on the oak. So I determined 'not to stop at such a limited field, and successively cut V shaped notches in hornbeam a good many, hazel, plums, elms, spruce, arbor vitae and mountain ash, going so far as tying up seeds in branches of apples, covering with moss, and hanging on the north side of the pump, a really sturdy, old-fashioned wooden pump, not a slim 6x4 modern innovation. As a matter of course, I did not make all grow, particularly those on the pump, but they afforded a daily opportunity to watch the development of the plumule as long as the viscid pulp lasted.
I remember those on the evergreens died early, very early, those on the elms and plums succumbing next, whilst those on the hazel and hornbeam lived for some time, and actually grew for one or two seasons. Such is the picture your notes on mistletoes has reproduced from my memory, and which was one of my first initiations into the mysteries of the great and good mother nature. Queens, N. Y.