Mistletoe is a parasitic plant, found wild in England, very rarely in Scotland, and nowhere in Ireland ; and is a production of great interest to the phytologist. The seeds in germination offer an exception to a general law, that the radicle of the embryo shoots downwards, and the plumula upwards. Thus, if a cannon-hall, to which mistletoe-seeds are glued on all sides, he suspended by a cord some distance from the earth, both the upper and under seeds, as well as those at the sides, all direct their radicle to the surface of the ball. This property ensures their growing upon the branches of trees, to.whatever side they happen to stick.
The fruit, which is covered with a viscid pulp, is made by the Italians, and even in Herefordshire, into a kind of birdlime; and, as it is a favourite food of the large or missel thrush, it is thought to have given rise to the proverb, " Turdus malus sibi cacat," applied to such as are authors of their own misfortunes. Mistletoe grows luxuriantly upon the apple or pear tribe of trees, and the oak; and Mr. Jessie describes it as flourishing upon some lime-trees in Datchet Mead, just as Shakespeare described it in his day.
The mystic uses of the misletoe are traced to the pagan ages; it has been identified with the golden branch referred to by Virgil, in infernis; and it is affirmed to have been used in the religious ceremonies of the Greeks and Romans.
The Druids and Celtic nations called it all-heal and guidhel. They had an extraordinary veneration for the number three, says Vallancey, and they chose the mistletoe, because not only its berries, but its leaves also, grow in clusters of three united to one stalk ; but the leaves grow in pairs only. The Druids celebrated a grand festival on the annual cutting of the mistletoe, which was held on the sixth day of the moon nearest their new year. Many ceremonies were observed : the officiating Druid being clad in white, cut the plant with a golden sickle, and received it in a white cloth.
Kissing a fair one under the mistletoe, and wishing her a happy new year as you present her with one of the berries for luck, is the Christmas custom of our times; and in some places persons try lots, for the bough with most berries, by the crackling of leaves and berries in the fire.
But at what period came mistletoe to be recognised as a Christmas evergreen We have Christmas carols in praise of holly and ivy of even earlier date than the fifteenth century; but allusion to mistletoe can scarcely be found for two centuries later, or before the time of Herrick:
" Down with the rosemary, and so, Down with the baies and mistletoe; Down with the holly, ivie, all, Wherewith ye dressed the Christmas hall."
"The trees, though summer, yet forlorn and lean, O'ercome with moss and baleful mistletoe."
"Get ivye and hull (holly), woman, deck up thine house;"
And thus refers to the plant :
"If snowe do continue, sheepe hardly that faro • Crave mistle and ivie for them for to spare."
The seeds of mistletoe ripen late, between February and April, and birds do not willingly feed upon them as long as they can procure the berries of hawthorn, hollies, ivy, and other winter food. No sooner, however, does a late frost set in, and the ground become covered with snow in the spring, as is often the case, than birds flock to the mistletoe, and find a ready resource thus left them when all others have failed. If the ripe berries are rubbed upon the branches of trees, between February and April, they may be readily cultivated; and mistletoe has thus been found to germinate on the oak, several of the pine tribe, cherry, common laurel, Portugal laurel, holly, lime,-elm, hornbeam, birch, sycamore, ash, chesnut, hazel, and acacia, as well as the apple, pear, and whitethorn tribe; but on all, except the apple and pear, the seeds soon sicken and die.