common name for a parasitic plant that grows on trees and shrubs

Mistletoe is the common name for a group of semi-parasitic plants in the order Santalales. They grow attached by a haustorium to the branches of trees or shrubs. It is not the name of any one plant: rather, it is a name given to plants which have a particular growth-habit.

European mistletoe attached to a silver birch
Scientific classification

Santalaceae (Viscaceae)

The different mistletoes have white fruit (berries), and are parasitic on trees and shrubs. The name was invented in Europe, for local mistletoes. Similar parasitic plants are found in other parts of the world.



The name was first given to Viscum album (European mistletoe, Santalaceae), the only species native in Great Britain and much of Europe. Later the name was given to other related species, including Phoradendron serotinum (the eastern mistletoe of eastern North America, also Santalaceae).

The largest family of mistletoes, Loranthaceae, has 73 genera and over 900 species.[1]

In culture and myths


European mistletoe played a large role in Greek mythology, and is believed to be The Golden Bough of Aeneas, ancestor of the Romans.[2] The Norse god Baldr was killed with mistletoe.[3]

In Romanian traditions, mistletoe (vâsc in Romanian) is considered a source of good fortune.

William Shakespeare mentions it in Titus Andronicus, Act II, Scene I: "Overcome with moss and baleful mistletoe".

Mistletoe is often used as a Christmas decoration. Viscum album is used in Europe and Phoradendron serotinum is used in North America. According to custom, the mistletoe must not touch the ground between its cutting and its removal as the last of Christmas greens at Candlemas; it may remain hanging through the year, often to preserve the house from lightning or fire, until it was replaced the following Christmas Eve.[4]

Mistletoe (Phoradendron flavescens) is the state floral emblem for the State of Oklahoma.

Kissing under mistletoe at Christmas


According to a custom during Christmas, any two people who meet under a hanging of mistletoe are urged to kiss. The custom started in Scandinavia.[5][6]


  1. Judd W.S. et al 2002. Plant systematics: a phylogenetic approach. Sunderland MA: Sinauer. ISBN 0-87893-403-0
  2. Virgil (19 BC) The Aeneid.
  3. Gylfaginning, XLIX On-line text Archived 2007-09-30 at the Wayback Machine
  4. Mistletoe: the evolution of a Christmas tradition. [1]
  5. Brewer, E. Cobham 1898. Dictionary of phrase and fable. "Kissing under the mistletoe" relates the custom to the death of Balder, without authority.
  6. The WorldofChristmas.net

Other websites