Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that grows on trees and shrubs. It has become a popular Christmas decoration and tradition to kiss under mistletoe. But despite its strong associations with the holidays, mistletoe actually comes in a variety of colors – not just white!
What is mistletoe?
Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that attaches itself to trees and shrubs, growing off the nutrients and water of the host plant. There are over 1,300 species of mistletoe worldwide, found in a variety of habitats from rainforests to deserts.
Mistletoe spreads by seeds that are eaten by birds and other animals. When birds wipe their beaks on branches after eating the sticky seeds, the seeds attach and can germinate. Mistletoe sends out roots that penetrate the bark of the host and extracts water and nutrients.
While mistletoe is often considered a pest that can damage or even kill host plants in large infestations, it also provides food and nesting sites for birds. Certain species of butterflies and other insects depend on mistletoe for survival.
Mistletoe varieties and colors
There are dozens of mistletoe species found around the world. The most common type in Europe and North America is European mistletoe (Viscum album). This evergreen species has oval-shaped green leaves and whitish-transparent berries. However, even within this species, there is some color variation.
Some European mistletoe plants produce yellow-green flowers. Others have greenish-yellow berries. The leaves can range from bright green to a bluish-green hue. There are also differences in leaf shape and size.
Here are some other common mistletoe varieties and their colors:
|American mistletoe (Phoradendron leucarpum)
|Eastern and Central USA
|Greenish-yellow to orange berries
|Dwarf mistletoe (Arceuthobium spp.)
|Western North America
|Orange to red berries
|Australian mistletoe (Amyema spp.)
|Red, orange, or yellow berries
The diversity of mistletoe species means they can exhibit a rainbow of colors! Even those with white berries may have colorful flowers, leaves, or stems.
Why is mistletoe often white?
Despite the variation, the European mistletoe commonly used as Christmas greenery tends to be mostly green and white in color. Here are some reasons why:
- The white berries are very noticeable against the green leaves, especially once the leaves are harvested and don’t get as much light.
- In winter when mistletoe is harvested, the leaves turn a paler lime green color.
- Bright red or other colored berries would clash with Christmas colors like red and green.
- White has purity and winter symbolism that suits the spiritual meaning of mistletoe.
Therefore, even though other colors exist, the white European mistletoe fits well with Christmas themes and decor. The pale green foliage and striking white berries look beautiful together.
When does mistletoe change color?
Throughout the seasons, mistletoe goes through a series of color transformations:
- Spring: New growth emerges light green. Flowers bloom white to yellow.
- Summer: Foliage is vivid green. Immature berries are green.
- Fall: Berries ripen to white or other colors. Leaves may yellow before dropping.
- Winter: Most leaves dropped, revealing white berries. Remaining leaves turn lime green.
As you can see, mistletoe generally appears whitest in winter when it’s harvested. But its color varies depending on the season, species, and local environment.
Cultural associations with white mistletoe
Beyond suitability for Christmas, the white color of European mistletoe also suits the spiritual and medicinal lore around this plant:
- Peace: Ancient Celts saw mistletoe as a representation of peace. Enemies were reconciled under mistletoe.
- Protection: It was believed to protect the home from fires and lightning.
- Fertility: Romans associated mistletoe with fertility and vitality.
- Medicinal: Used as a traditional medicine for centuries to treat seizures, headaches, and other conditions.
The white color adds to mistletoe’s association with purity, peace, innocence, and even divinity across cultures. This influences its ongoing popularity at Christmas.
Should you use other colors of mistletoe?
While European mistletoe with its iconic white berries suits the Christmas season perfectly, consider branching out. Here are some fun ways to use alternative mistletoe colors:
- Incorporate red, orange or yellow berries into floral arrangements.
- Use variegated species like American mistletoe for greenery.
- Add pink ribbons or flowers to complement pink-tinged mistletoe.
- Highlight blue-green mistletoe by pairing it with silver and white.
- Match brighter green sprigs with your main Christmas colors.
The key is to complement the existing color palette. Vibrant mistletoe berries can look festive alongside evergreens, poinsettias, and other holiday decorations. Let mistletoe add a touch of cheer!
While European mistletoe with its pale green leaves and white berries epitomizes our vision of Christmas mistletoe, many species exhibit other hues. Red, orange, yellow, blue, and green mistletoe all thrive worldwide. Even within the same species, natural color variation occurs.
The winter whiteness of European mistletoe fits well with spiritual meanings and Christmas decorating themes. But don’t be afraid to incorporate other mistletoe colors for a unique holiday look. Regardless of color, mistletoe remains a beloved seasonal symbol.