To celebrate this festive season, Lincolnshire Today looks at the three most quintessential Christmas plants.
Contrary to the pop song, mistletoe is a terrible accompaniment to wine. In fact, it’s downright poisonous if you eat it. Though mistletoe retains its romantic connotations, all species of the plant are parasitic. The snow globe-like berries contain a single sticky seed that attaches to passing animals who help transport it to new growing sites. When the seed attaches to a suitable tree, it sends out roots which penetrate the tree and draw out its water and nutrients. Although this doesn’t kill the tree, it can leave it sickly. Hanging mistletoe in the house dates back to the time of the ancient druids, who believed it possessed mystical powers which brought good luck to the household and warded off evil spirits. The origins of why we kiss under the plant are hazy at best, but experts believe this association first dates back to Norse mythology. Since then it’s become part of the festive iconography and its hard to imagine December without it.
The holly bush is much more closely connected to the heart of Christmas, with its prickly leaves representing the crown of thorns Jesus was treated to before he was nailed down. The berries, meanwhile, were said to be the beads of blood that dripped down his brow. This is further evidenced by the plant’s Scandinavian name – ‘Christ Thorn’. Centuries before JC, those druids had already cottoned on to the importance of holly, often wearing it for crowns themselves. As with mistletoe, holly berries are poisonous to humans despite being an important food source for birds this time of year. Back in pagan times, it was believed that holly was a male plant – y’know, because of the pricks – while ivy was the female, giving rise to the popular carol we still enjoy today. It’s complete nonsense though, scientifically speaking. Although holly is a festive staple, it is considered bad luck to bring it into the house before Christmas Eve. You have been warned.
We couldn’t talk about holly without mentioning ivy now, could we? The two go together like Christmas and familial misery. As with the other plants we’ve already explored, the use of ivy during winter dates back thousands of years, long before some upstart carpenter’s son. Ivy was evergreen leading some to believe it had magical properties. As with many pagan practices, the use of ivy was incorporated into Christianity though it was banished as a décor by Christians for a time because of its ability to grow in the shade. But it has become part of the holiday season, incorporated into wreaths, carols and Christmas cards.