MISTLETOE 1 (Viscum album), a species of Viscum, of the botanical family Loranthaceae. The whole genus is parasitical, and contains about twenty species, widely distributed in the warmer parts of the old world; but only the mistletoe proper is a native of Europe. It forms an evergreen bush, about 4 ft. in length, thickly crowded with forking branches and opposite leaves, which are about 2 in. long, obovate-lanceolate in shape and yellowish-green; the dioecious flowers, which are small and nearly of the same colour but yellower, appear in February and March; the white berry when ripe is filled with a viscous semitransparent pulp (whence bird-lime is derived). The mistletoe is parasitic both on deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs. In England it is most abundant on the apple-tree, but rarely found on the oak. Poplars, willows, lime, mountain-ash, maples, are favourite habitats, and it is also found on many other trees, including cedar of Lebanon and larch. The fruit is eaten by most frugivorous birds, and through their agency, particularly that of the species which is accordingly known as missel-thrush or mistle-thrush, the plant is propagated. The Latin proverb has it that " Turdus malum sibi cacat "; but the sowing is really effected by the bird wiping its beak, to which the seeds adhere, against the bark of the tree on which it has alighted. The viscid pulp soon hardens, affording a protection to the seed; in germination the sucker-root penetrates the bark, and a connexion is established with the vascular tissue of the first plant. The growth of the plant is slow, and its durability proportionately great, its death being determined generally by that of the tree on which it has established itself. The mistletoe so extensively used in England at Christmas is largely derived from the apple orchards of Normandy; a quantity is also sent from the apple orchards of Herefordshire.
Pliny (H. N., xvi. 92-95; xxiv. 6) has a good deal to tell about the mscum, a deadly parasite, though slower in its action than ivy. He distinguishes three " genera." " On the fir and larch grows what is called stelis in Euboea and hyphear in Arcadia." Viscum, called dryos hyphear, is most plentiful on the esculent oak, but occurs also on the robur, Prunus sylvestris and terebinth. Hyphear is useful for fattening cattle if they are hardy enough to withstand the purgative effect it produces at first; viscum is medicinally of value as an emollient, and in cases of tumour, ulcers and the like. Puny is also our authority for the reverence in which the mistletoe when found growing on the robur was held by the Druids. Prepared as a draught, it was used as a cure for sterility and a remedy for poisons. The mistletoe figures also in Scandinavian legend as having furnished the material of the arrow with which Balder (the sun-god) was slain by the blind god Hoder. Most probably this story had its origin in a particular theory as to the meaning of the word mistletoe.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)