Mistletoe is common in the Southern Piedmont and has a strong herbal tradition as a medicine and as a holiday superstition and game. This evergreen parasite is spread by bird defecation after eating mistletoe berries. The latter link from the NC Museum of Natural Sciences tells us the name derives from the Anglo phrase for “dung-on-a-twig.” Three different species have a complex role in all this. The species most commonly used as decoration, phoradendron flavescens, is a native of North America. In California, it is considered a parasitic pest. Viscus album is the European species whose berries are poisonous and also useful as medicine. The species in my pictures is Phoradendron leucarpum, oak mistletoe, considered less common and rare in Europe, but apparently it is Raleigh’s most common, and the one favored by European Druids for its alliance with the mighty oak.
Raleigh certainly has its share of oaks, and many of them in the area northwest of downtown sport the dusky green balls. The spots inside the Beltline I best remember mistletoe are gone. The planted median of Glenwood north of Peace Street used to have oaks that were full of prominent mistletoe, but I just today realized they have been replaced (quite some time ago – another geezer moment) with crepe myrtles, which are doubtless less trouble for the Progress Energy linemen. But a large oak with a huge spread of mistletoe grows just across the street. Mistletoe is not endangered: in fact I see it often in my travels, now that I have trained my eye to look for it. But it does get harvested, and some of what you see hanging in door jams is quite local indeed.
Where do you get yours? Maybe from Dan, who was set up on Person Street as I drove out to take mistletoe pics for this post. I explained our coincidence, bought a big branch and chatted about mistletoe. I mentioned the old strategy I’d seen out at my country cousins of shooting it down with a shotgun.
“Yeah, but that messes it all up. I got this here the hard way – thirty feet up.” From his yard, he said, but there is mistletoe in some public areas around town. Does much inside the beltline get picked each year? Wondering, I say goodbye to Dan and head out in search of unharvested mistletoe. First stop is the most hilarious spot for mistletoe to hang: the corner of Cook and Oakwood. The irony of this clump presiding over a corner where women of the street often hawk their sad-eyed wares in broad daylight is just too great for me to forbear mentioning.
Heading out of downtown, I find nice groups at Harvey Street but none on Glenwood north of 5 Points. Over on Wade, there are healthy stands at the SECU facility and on up that hill toward Oberlin. The Canterbury/Banbury neighborhood has huge oaks, but many of them are Willow Oaks, and I saw almost no mistletoe there. My schedule took me back toward home, and I saw the nice batches at the edge of Blount Street Commons. This was a very partial and cursory inventory, but I plan to make this an annual post and develop a map of mistletoe sites in Raleigh (as I will for pecans, thus the name for my nature project blog).
NC Farms Selling Organic & Low-Spray Christmas Trees and Wreaths (and Mistletoe)
Have a great holiday season!