Map our mistletoe - plea

RICHARD BATSON It is a seasonal symbolic plant whose sprigs will spark thousands of festive kisses. But an appeal has gone out to Norfolk people to help map where mistletoe is growing wild in the county.

RICHARD BATSON

It is a seasonal symbolic plant whose sprigs will spark thousands of festive kisses. But an appeal has gone out to Norfolk people to help map where mistletoe is growing wild in the county.

The plant, which is steeped in magic, mystery and myth, is not common in the area, and the grubbing up of apple and pear orchards has destroyed one of its most important habitats.

So the Norfolk Wildlife Trust is making a seasonal plea, while mistletoe is in people's minds - and above their heads for those party pecks - for the public to carry out a “yule log” of where they spot the plant.


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It will update a 1990s national survey, which showed it was scattered across Norfolk, but not common, and the biggest concentration to the south and east of Norwich.

“We think mistletoe is declining in numbers but could be expanding in its range,” said David North the trust's education manager.

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“To help protect wildlife we need to know where it is, so we can target our limited resources.”

People are being asked to look to the sky and scour the tree tops for the telltale balls of mistletoe, before sending the information back to the trust for its own, and national records.

It is part of a Natural Connections project, which has won cash support from the heritage Lottery Fund and European Social Fund, and is also aimed at getting people out into the country to enjoy and record it nature. Other surveys will include garden plants and climate change, he added.

Mistletoe was closely linked to a lot of ancient folklore, but it could also be a climate change indicator, said Mr North. It thrived best in damp moist but frost free conditions and did not like summer droughts. It was more common in southern England and seldom found north of Yorkshire.

The loss of traditional orchards, partly to development, partly due to replacement of older style tree species had hit wildlife including mistletoe.

So people are being asked to record where they see it and on what kind of tree it is clinging to. The parasitic plant is known to grow on poplar, almond, hawthorn, field maple and willow, but the last time it was seen on an oak in Norfolk was 1866 - unless someone can prove otherwise.

The survey finishes at the end of January and more than 100 people have already sent in sightings, plus some digital photographs, including one plant found living on a cotoneaster shrub in a domestic garden.

People did not have to be experts to help stressed Mr North. They can simply send in sightings, including a map reference or postcode, and host tree if possible, along with their own contact details.

However an official survey form is available from the trust by phoning 01603 625540 or visiting its website www.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk/naturalconnections

Mistletoe Facts

It is a parasitic evergreen shrub that grows in the high branches of old trees, drawing water and nutrients from roots which go into the bark

The most common variety in Europe is viscum album

Most shop-bought mistletoe comes from Brittany or Normandy in northern France, where it is known as Herbe de la Croix because it is thought Christ's cross was made of mistletoe wood.

Druids believed the most sacred form of mistletoe was the one growing on oaks, which protected against evil and had magical powers. The early Christian church banned it because of those associations.

Medieval women wanting to have babies would wrap mistletoe around their waists and wrists believing it boosted fertility

Scandanavian legend says the goddess of love, Frigg, banished the plant to the top of trees after her son Balder the Beautiful was killed by a spear of mistletoe. But when Balder came back to life she made it a symbol of love.

It reproduces through the droppings of birds which eat the berries, and the sticky flesh they wipe from their beaks on to the bark.

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