Viscum album
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''Viscum album'' is a species of
mistletoe Mistletoe is the common name for obligate parasite, obligate parasitic plant, hemiparasitic plants in the Order (biology), order Santalales. They are attached to their host tree or shrub by a structure called the haustorium, through which the ...
in the family Santalaceae, commonly known as European mistletoe, common mistletoe or simply as mistletoe (
Old English Old English (, ), or Anglo-Saxon, is the earliest recorded form of the English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language of the Indo-European language family, with its earliest forms spoken by the inhabita ...
''mistle''). It is native to
Europe Europe is a large peninsula conventionally considered a continent in its own right because of its great physical size and the weight of its history and traditions. Europe is also considered a Continent#Subcontinents, subcontinent of Eurasia ...
and western and southern
Asia Asia (, ) is one of the world's most notable geographical regions, which is either considered a continent in its own right or a subcontinent of Eurasia, which shares the continental landmass of Afro-Eurasia with Africa Africa is ...
. ''Viscum album'' is a hemiparasite on several species of trees, from which it draws water and nutrients. It has a significant role in European mythology, legends, and customs. In modern times, it is commonly featured in
Christmas Christmas is an annual festival commemorating Nativity of Jesus, the birth of Jesus, Jesus Christ, observed primarily on December 25 as a religious and cultural celebration among billions of people Observance of Christmas by country, around t ...
decoration and symbology. (''V. album'' is found only rarely in
North America North America is a continent in the Northern Hemisphere and almost entirely within the Western Hemisphere. It is bordered to the north by the Arctic Ocean, to the east by the Atlantic Ocean, to the southeast by South America and the Car ...
, as an introduced species; its cultural roles are usually fulfilled by the similar native species ''
Phoradendron leucarpum ''Phoradendron leucarpum'' is a species of mistletoe in the Viscaceae family which is native to the United States and Mexico. Its common names include American mistletoe, eastern mistletoe, hairy mistletoe and oak mistletoe. It is native to Mexi ...
''.)


Description

It is a hemi-parasitic evergreen
shrub A shrub (often also called a bush) is a small-to-medium-sized perennial woody plant. Unlike herbaceous plants, shrubs have persistent woody stems above the ground. Shrubs can be either deciduous or evergreen. They are distinguished from trees ...
, which grows on the stems of other trees. It has stems long with dichotomous branching. The
leaves A leaf (plural, : leaves) is any of the principal appendages of a vascular plant plant stem, stem, usually borne laterally aboveground and specialized for photosynthesis. Leaves are collectively called foliage, as in "autumn foliage", wh ...
are in opposite pairs, strap-shaped, entire, leathery textured, long, broad and are a yellowish-green in colour. This species is
dioecious Dioecy (; ; adj. dioecious , ) is a characteristic of a species, meaning that it has distinct individual organisms (unisexual) that produce male or female gametes, either directly (in animals) or indirectly (in Spermatophyte, seed plants). Dioeci ...
and the insect-pollinated
flower A flower, sometimes known as a bloom or blossom, is the reproduction, reproductive structure found in flowering plants (plants of the division Angiospermae). The biological function of a flower is to facilitate reproduction, usually by providin ...
s are inconspicuous, yellowish-green, diameter. The
fruit In botany, a fruit is the seed-bearing structure in flowering plants that is formed from the ovary after flowering. Fruits are the means by which flowering plants (also known as angiosperms) disseminate their seeds. Edible fruits in particul ...
is a white or yellow berry containing one (very rarely several)
seed A seed is an Plant embryogenesis, embryonic plant enclosed in a testa (botany), protective outer covering, along with a food reserve. The formation of the seed is a part of the process of reproduction in seed plants, the spermatophytes, includ ...
embedded in the very sticky, glutinous fruit pulp. It is commonly found in the crowns of broad-leaved trees, particularly
apple An apple is an edible fruit produced by an apple tree (''Malus domestica''). Apple fruit tree, trees are agriculture, cultivated worldwide and are the most widely grown species in the genus ''Malus''. The tree originated in Central Asia, wh ...
, lime (linden), hawthorn and poplar. European mistletoe is the only multicellular organism to not have a functioning respiratory complex I in its
electron transport chain An electron transport chain (ETC) is a series of protein complexes and other molecules that electron transfer, transfer electrons from electron donors to electron acceptors via redox reactions (both Redox#Definitions, reduction and oxidation occu ...
, a protein that's essential for the creation of useful energy for its cells. It is believed to survive by obtaining
adenosine triphosphate Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is an organic compound that provides energy to drive many processes in living cell (biology), cells, such as muscle contraction, nerve impulse propagation, condensate dissolution, and chemical synthesis. Found in all ...
and energy-rich compounds from its host as well as reorganizing its other respiratory complexes and slowing its growth and energy requirements.


Classification

The mistletoe was one of the many species originally described by
Linnaeus Carl Linnaeus (; 23 May 1707 – 10 January 1778), also known after his Nobility#Ennoblement, ennoblement in 1761 as Carl von Linné#Blunt, Blunt (2004), p. 171. (), was a Swedish botanist, zoologist, taxonomist, and physician who formalise ...
. Its species name is the
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in the lower Tiber area (then known as Latium) around present-day Rome, but through ...
adjective ''albus'' "white". It and the other members of the genus '' Viscum'' were originally classified in the mistletoe family Viscaceae, but this family has since been sunk into the larger family Santalaceae.


Subspecies

Several
subspecies In Taxonomy (biology), biological classification, subspecies is a rank below species, used for populations that live in different areas and vary in size, shape, or other physical characteristics (Morphology (biology), morphology), but that ca ...
are commonly accepted. They differ in fruit colour, leaf shape and size, and most obviously in the host trees utilised. *''Viscum album'' subsp. ''abietis'' (Wiesb.) Abromeit.
Central Europe Central Europe is an area of Europe between Western Europe and Eastern Europe, based on a common History, historical, Society, social and cultural identity. The Thirty Years' War (1618–1648) between Catholic Church, Catholicism and Protestanti ...
. Fruit white; leaves up to . On '' Abies''. *''Viscum album'' subsp. ''album''. Europe,
southwest Asia Western Asia, West Asia, or Southwest Asia, is the westernmost subregion of the larger geographical region of Asia, as defined by some academics, UN bodies and other institutions. It is almost entirely a part of the Middle East, and includes ...
east to
Nepal Nepal (; ne, :ne:नेपाल, नेपाल ), formerly the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal ( ne, सङ्घीय लोकतान्त्रिक गणतन्त्र नेपाल ), is a landlocked country in S ...
. Fruit white; leaves . On '' Malus'', ''
Populus ''Populus'' is a genus of 25–30 species of deciduous flowering plants in the family Salicaceae, native to most of the Northern Hemisphere. English names variously applied to different species include poplar (), aspen, and cottonwood. The we ...
'', ''
Tilia ''Tilia'' is a genus of about 30 species of trees or bushes, native throughout most of the temperateness, temperate Northern Hemisphere. The tree is known as linden for the European species, and basswood for North American species. In Britain a ...
'', and less often on numerous other species, including (rarely) '' Quercus''. *''Viscum album'' subsp. ''austriacum'' (Wiesb.) Vollmann. Fruit yellow; leaves . Central Europe. On '' Larix'', '' Pinus'', '' Picea''. *''Viscum album'' subsp. ''meridianum'' (Danser) D.G.Long.
Southeast Asia Southeast Asia, also spelled South East Asia and South-East Asia, and also known as Southeastern Asia, South-eastern Asia or SEA, is the geographical United Nations geoscheme for Asia#South-eastern Asia, south-eastern region of Asia, consistin ...
. Fruit yellow; leaves . On '' Acer'', '' Carpinus'', '' Juglans'', ''
Prunus ''Prunus'' is a genus of trees and shrubs, which includes (among many others) the fruits plums, Cherry, cherries, peaches, Peach#Nectarine, nectarines, apricots, and almonds. Native to the North American temperate regions, the neotropics of Sou ...
'', ''
Sorbus ''Sorbus'' is a genus of over 100 species of trees and shrubs in the rose family (biology), family, Rosaceae. Species of ''Sorbus'' (''s.l.'') are commonly known as whitebeam, rowan (Sorbus aucuparia, mountain-ash) and service tree. The exact n ...
''. *''Viscum album'' subsp. ''creticum'' has recently been described from eastern
Crete Crete ( el, Κρήτη, translit=, Modern: , Ancient: ) is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, the 88th largest island in the world and the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, after Sicily, Sardinia, Cyprus, ...
. Fruit white; leaves short. On '' Pinus brutia''. *''Viscum album'' subsp. ''coloratum'' Kom. is treated by the ''
Flora of China The flora of China consists of a diverse range of plant species including over 39,000 vascular plants, 27,000 species of fungi and 3000 species of bryophytes.Wu, Z. Y., P. H. Raven & D. Y. Hong, eds. 2006. Flora of China. Vol. 22 (Poaceae). Sci ...
'' as a distinct species '' Viscum coloratum'' (Kom) Nakai.


Toxicity

European mistletoe is potentially fatal, in a concentrated form, and people can become seriously ill from eating the berries. The toxic
lectin Lectins are carbohydrate-binding proteins that are highly specific for sugar Moiety (chemistry), groups that are part of other molecules, so cause agglutination (biology), agglutination of particular cells or precipitation of glycoconjugates an ...
viscumin has been isolated from ''Viscum album''. Viscumin is a cytotoxic protein ( ribosome inactivating protein, or RIP) that binds to galactose residues of cell surface
glycoprotein Glycoproteins are proteins which contain oligosaccharide chains Covalent bond, covalently attached to amino acid side-chains. The carbohydrate is attached to the protein in a translation (genetics), cotranslational or posttranslational modifica ...
s and may be internalised by endocytosis. Viscumin strongly inhibits protein synthesis by inactivating the 60 S ribosomal subunit. The structure of this protein is very similar to other RIPs, showing the most resemblance to ricin and abrin. Some birds have immunity to the poison and enjoy the berries, especially the
mistle thrush The mistle thrush (''Turdus viscivorus'') is a bird common to much of Europe, Palearctic, temperate Asia and North Africa. It is a year-round resident in a large part of its range, but northern and eastern populations bird migration, migrate s ...
which is named for its favourite food.


Culture, folklore and mythology

European mistletoe features in many myths and legends from early written sources, into the modern period. In cultures across pre-Christian Europe, mistletoe was often seen as a representation of divine male essence (and thus romance, fertility and vitality).


Celtic

According to
Pliny the Elder Gaius Plinius Secundus (AD 23/2479), called Pliny the Elder (), was a Roman Empire, Roman author, Natural history, naturalist and Natural philosophy, natural philosopher, and naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and a friend of t ...
, the
Celts The Celts (, see Names of the Celts#Pronunciation, pronunciation for different usages) or Celtic peoples () are. "CELTS location: Greater Europe time period: Second millennium B.C.E. to present ancestry: Celtic a collection of Indo-Europea ...
considered it a remedy for barrenness in animals and an antidote to
poison Poison is a chemical substance that has a detrimental effect to life. The term is used in a wide range of scientific fields and industries, where it is often specifically defined. It may also be applied colloquially or figuratively, with a broa ...
, and sacred when growing on oak trees (where it is rare). He describes a Celtic ritual sacrifice and banquet at which a druid dressed in white would climb an oak tree to collect mistletoe using a
gold Gold is a chemical element with the Symbol (chemistry), symbol Au (from la, aurum) and atomic number 79. This makes it one of the higher atomic number elements that occur naturally. It is a Brightness, bright, slightly orange-yellow, dense, s ...
en
sickle A sickle, bagging hook, reaping-hook or grasshook is a single-handed agricultural tool designed with variously curved blades and typically used for harvesting, or reaping, grain crops or cutting succulent forage chiefly for feeding livest ...
. This legend is often referred to in the popular '' Asterix'' comic books, where the druid Getafix is often seen collecting mistletoe with a golden sickle. Modern druids in the Americas may use the native American ''
Phoradendron leucarpum ''Phoradendron leucarpum'' is a species of mistletoe in the Viscaceae family which is native to the United States and Mexico. Its common names include American mistletoe, eastern mistletoe, hairy mistletoe and oak mistletoe. It is native to Mexi ...
'' as well as other mistletoe species.


Germanic

According to the 13th century ''
Prose Edda The ''Prose Edda'', also known as the ''Younger Edda'', ''Snorri's Edda'' ( is, Snorra Edda) or, historically, simply as ''Edda'', is an Old Norse textbook written in Iceland during the early 13th century. The work is often assumed to have been t ...
'', the goddess Frigg had everything swear an oath not to hurt her son
Baldr Baldr (also Balder, Baldur) is a æsir, god in Germanic mythology. In Norse mythology, Baldr (Old Norse: ) is a son of the god Odin and the goddess Frigg, and has Sons of Odin, numerous brothers, such as Thor and Váli. In wider Germanic mythol ...
, except for mistletoe, because "it seemed too young" to her for that. After this at the thing, other gods had fun by shooting at him, or hurling stones, without him being injured at all.
Loki Loki is a Æsir, god in Norse mythology. According to some sources, Loki is the son of Fárbauti (a jötunn) and Laufey (mentioned as a goddess), and the brother of Helblindi and Býleistr. Loki is married to Sigyn and they have two sons, Narfi ...
, wishing him dead, tricked Baldr's brother, the blind god Höðr into throwing mistletoe at Baldr, killing him. In the version of the story in ''
Gesta Danorum ''Gesta Danorum'' ("Deeds of the Danes") is a patriotic work of Danish history, by the 12th-century author Saxo Grammaticus ("Saxo the Literate", literally "the Grammarian"). It is the most ambitious literary undertaking of History of Denmark#M ...
'', Baldr and Höðr are rival suitors for Nanna, and Höðr kills Baldr with a sword named Mistilteinn (
Old Norse Old Norse, Old Nordic, or Old Scandinavian, is a stage of development of North Germanic languages, North Germanic dialects before their final divergence into separate Nordic languages. Old Norse was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia and t ...
"mistletoe"). In addition, a sword by the same name also appears in Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks and Hrómundar saga Gripssonar.


Ancient Greek and Roman

Mistletoe figured prominently in
Greek mythology A major branch of classical mythology, Greek mythology is the body of myths originally told by the Ancient Greece, ancient Greeks, and a genre of Ancient Greek folklore. These stories concern the Cosmogony, origin and Cosmology#Metaphysical co ...
, and is believed to be the Golden Bough of
Aeneas In Greco-Roman mythology, Aeneas (, ; from ) was a Trojan hero, the son of the Trojan prince Anchises and the Greek goddess Aphrodite (equivalent to the Roman Venus (mythology), Venus). His father was a first cousin of King Priam of Troy (both ...
, ancestor of the Romans. Also in Greek mythology mistletoe was used by heroes to access the underworld. The Romans associated mistletoe with peace, love and understanding and hung it over doorways to protect the household.


Christian

When Christianity became widespread in Europe after the 3rd century AD, the religious or mystical respect for the mistletoe plant was integrated to an extent into the new religion. In some way that is not presently understood, this may have led to the widespread custom of kissing under the mistletoe plant during the Christmas season. The earliest documented case of kissing under the mistletoe dates from 16th century England, a custom that was apparently very popular at that time. Winston Graham reports a Cornish tradition that mistletoe was originally a fine tree from which the wood of the
Cross A cross is a geometrical figure consisting of two intersecting lines or bars, usually perpendicular to each other. The lines usually run vertically and horizontally. A cross of oblique lines, in the shape of the Latin letter X, is termed a sal ...
was made, but afterwards it was condemned to live on only as a parasite. Mistletoe is commonly used as a Christmas decoration, though such use was rarely alluded to until the 18th century. According to custom, the mistletoe must not touch the ground between its cutting and its removal as the last of Christmas greens at
Candlemas Candlemas (also spelled Candlemass), also known as the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus Christ, the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or the Feast of the Holy Encounter, is a Christian holiday commemorating the presentati ...
. It may remain hanging throughout the year, often to preserve the house from
lightning Lightning is a naturally occurring electrostatic discharge during which two electric charge, electrically charged regions, both in the atmosphere or with one on the land, ground, temporarily neutralize themselves, causing the instantaneous ...
or fire, until it is replaced the following Christmas Eve. The tradition has spread throughout the English-speaking world, but is largely unknown in the rest of Europe. (The similar native species ''
Phoradendron leucarpum ''Phoradendron leucarpum'' is a species of mistletoe in the Viscaceae family which is native to the United States and Mexico. Its common names include American mistletoe, eastern mistletoe, hairy mistletoe and oak mistletoe. It is native to Mexi ...
'' is used in
North America North America is a continent in the Northern Hemisphere and almost entirely within the Western Hemisphere. It is bordered to the north by the Arctic Ocean, to the east by the Atlantic Ocean, to the southeast by South America and the Car ...
in lieu of the European ''Viscum album''.) According to an old Christmas custom, a man and a woman who meet under a hanging of mistletoe were obliged to
kiss A kiss is the touch or pressing of one's lips against another person or an object. Cultural connotations of kissing vary widely. Depending on the culture and context, a kiss can express sentiments of love Love encompasses a range of s ...
. The custom may be of
Scandinavia Scandinavia; Sámi languages: /. ( ) is a subregion#Europe, subregion in Northern Europe, with strong historical, cultural, and linguistic ties between its constituent peoples. In English usage, ''Scandinavia'' most commonly refers to Denmark, ...
n origin. It was alluded to as common practice in 1808 and described in 1820 by American author
Washington Irving Washington Irving (April 3, 1783 – November 28, 1859) was an American short-story writer, essayist, biographer, historian, and diplomat of the early 19th century. He is best known for his short stories "Rip Van Winkle" (1819) and "The Legend ...
in his '' The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.'': In Germany, the Christmas tradition is that people who kiss under mistletoe will have an enduring love or are bound to marry one another.


Other

Every year, the UK town of Tenbury Wells holds a mistletoe festival and crowns a 'Mistletoe Queen'. Mistletoe is the county flower of
Herefordshire Herefordshire () is a county in the West Midlands of England, governed by Herefordshire Council. It is bordered by Shropshire to the north, Worcestershire to the east, Gloucestershire Gloucestershire ( abbreviated Glos) is a Count ...
. It was voted such in 2002 following a poll by the wild plant conservation charity Plantlife.


Uses


Flavoring

Mistletoe is an ingredient of '' biska'', a
pomace brandy Pomace spirit (or pomace brandy) is a Distilled beverage, liquor distilled from pomace that is left over from winemaking, after the grapes are pressed (wine), pressed. It is called marc in both English and French, but "grappa" in Italian and "baga ...
-based liquor made in
Istria Istria ( ; Croatian language, Croatian and Slovene language, Slovene: ; ist, Eîstria; Istro-Romanian language, Istro-Romanian, Italian language, Italian and Venetian language, Venetian: ; formerly in Latin and in Ancient Greek) is the larges ...
.


Alternative medicine

Mistletoe leaves and young twigs are used by herbalists, and preparations made from them are popular in Europe, especially in
Germany Germany,, officially the Federal Republic of Germany, is a country in Central Europe. It is the second most populous country in Europe after Russia, and the most populous member state of the European Union. Germany is situated between ...
, for attempting to treat circulatory and respiratory system problems. Use of mistletoe extract in the treatment of cancer originated with
Rudolf Steiner Rudolf Joseph Lorenz Steiner (27 or 25 February 1861 – 30 March 1925) was an Austrians, Austrian occultist, social reformer, architecture, architect, Esotericism, esotericist, and claimed clairvoyance, clairvoyant. Steiner gained initial re ...
, the founder of
Anthroposophy Anthroposophy is a spiritualist movement founded in the early 20th century by the esotericist Rudolf Steiner that postulates the existence of an objective, intellectually comprehensible spiritual world, accessible to human experience. Followe ...
. Although
laboratory A laboratory (; ; colloquially lab) is a facility that provides controlled conditions in which science, scientific or technological research, experiments, and measurement may be performed. Laboratory services are provided in a variety of settings: ...
and
animal Animals are multicellular, eukaryotic organisms in the biological kingdom Animalia. With few exceptions, animals consume organic material, breathe oxygen, are able to move, can reproduce sexually, and go through an ontogenetic stage i ...
experiments have suggested that mistletoe extract may affect the
immune system The immune system is a network of biological processes that protects an organism from diseases. It detects and responds to a wide variety of pathogens, from viruses to parasitic worms, as well as Tumor immunology, cancer cells and objects such ...
and be able to kill some kinds of cancer cells, there is little
evidence Evidence for a proposition is what supports this proposition. It is usually understood as an indication that the supported proposition is true. What role evidence plays and how it is conceived varies from field to field. In epistemology, evid ...
of its benefit to people with cancer.


Bird trapping

The sticky juice of mistletoe berries was used to make birdlime, an
adhesive Adhesive, also known as glue, cement, mucilage, or paste, is any non-metallic substance applied to one or both surfaces of two separate items that molecular binding , binds them together and resists their separation. The use of adhesives of ...
to trap small animals or birds. The Latin word is the source of ''viscous''.


Gallery

File:Viscum album - Köhler–s Medizinal-Pflanzen-281.jpg, 19th century illustration by Franz Eugen Köhler File:Mistletoe 1.jpg, On an apple tree in
Essex Essex () is a Ceremonial counties of England, county in the East of England. One of the home counties, it borders Suffolk and Cambridgeshire to the north, the North Sea to the east, Hertfordshire to the west, Kent across the estuary of the Riv ...
,
England England is a Countries of the United Kingdom, country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to its west and Scotland to its north. The Irish Sea lies northwest and the Celtic Sea to the southwest. It is separa ...
File:Mistletoe.jpg, On an apple tree in Essex, England File:Viscum album Bart-0678 2011 12 24.JPG, In abundance on an apple tree (in Franche-Comté). File:Mistletoe seed on twig.jpg, Sticky seed on a branch File:Mistletoe in France.jpg, In
Versailles The Palace of Versailles ( ; french: Château de Versailles ) is a former royal residence built by King Louis XIV located in Versailles, Yvelines, Versailles, about west of Paris, France. The palace is owned by the French Republic and since 19 ...
,
France France (), officially the French Republic ( ), is a country primarily located in Western Europe. It also comprises of Overseas France, overseas regions and territories in the Americas and the Atlantic Ocean, Atlantic, Pacific Ocean, Pac ...
File:Viscum album fruit.jpg, Fruit of ''V. a. album'', in
Poland Poland, officially the Republic of Poland, is a country in Central Europe. It is divided into 16 administrative provinces called Voivodeships of Poland, voivodeships, covering an area of . Poland has a population of over 38 million and is ...
File:Jemioła.jpg, ''V. a. austriacum'' on '' Pinus sylvestris'', Poland File:VIscum album fruit kz.jpg, Fruit, in Gryfino, NW Poland. File:Viscum Album.jpg, ''Viscum album'' in
France France (), officially the French Republic ( ), is a country primarily located in Western Europe. It also comprises of Overseas France, overseas regions and territories in the Americas and the Atlantic Ocean, Atlantic, Pacific Ocean, Pac ...
, winter File:Омела 27 апреля Харьков Vizu.JPG, ''Viscum album'' in
Ukraine Ukraine ( uk, Україна, Ukraïna, ) is a country in Eastern Europe. It is the List of European countries by area, second-largest European country after Russia, which it borders Russia–Ukraine border, to the east and northeast. Ukraine ...
, spring File:Viscum album wood.jpg, Cross section of wood


See also

* Christmas decoration * List of unproven and disproven cancer treatments


References


Further reading

* *


External links


Distribution maps of Viscum album

Flora of Pakistan: ''Viscum album''


{{Authority control
album An album is a collection of audio recordings issued on compact disc (CD), Phonograph record, vinyl, audio tape, or another medium such as Digital distribution#Music, digital distribution. Albums of recorded sound were developed in the early ...
Parasitic plants Medicinal plants Plants described in 1753 Taxa named by Carl Linnaeus Subshrubs Dioecious plants Poisonous plants