Thursday, December 24, 2009

MISTLETOE



At Christmastime, you often see a plant called mistletoe, which is a really weird name for a plant, if you ask me.  But actually, you will only see this plant if you look way up high, because people hang it from high places so that they can kiss underneath it.  Which is another weird thing about mistletoe.

So today I will try to explain why people do these weird things, even though it's not always easy to understand why people do anything, as you may already know.  But first I will start by saying that mistletoe is POISONOUS for dogs and for cats and for people, too, so DON'T EAT IT!  If you eat it, you can get really sick and you might even die.  Consider yourself warned!

Anyway, no one is totally sure where the name mistletoe comes from, but one theory is that it comes from the Old English word misteltan.  This word was made out of two even older Anglo-Saxon words, mistel, which means "dung," and tan, which means "twig."  So mistletoe can be translated as "poop on a stick."


This is a pretty good name for it because the mistletoe plant grows up in the branches of trees, and the way it gets started growing is that a bird eats a mistletoe berry (which is NOT poisonous for birds) and then the bird poops on a tree branch, and the mistletoe seed sticks to the branch because the seed is very sticky, and the mistletoe starts growing there.

Mistletoes are parasites, which means they live off of something else, without doing anything nice for the something else, which is exactly like what a tapeworm does inside a dog.  So the mistletoe grows its roots right into the tree where its seed got pooped out by the bird.  And the mistletoe steals food and stuff right out of the tree, which sometimes kills the tree, but not always.

Except that mistletoes are not total parasites.  Instead, they are called hemiparasites, which means "half parasites" because they can actually do this thing called photosynthesis -- which is something that plants do -- all by themselves, so they are not depending on the tree for absolutely everything they need.


Anyway, about the kissing thing.  Like I told you, people hang mistletoe up high, like from light fixtures and doorframes, and then when a girl goes under the mistletoe, a boy is supposed to kiss her.  This custom got its start a long, long time ago.  The Ancient Greeks did it at the festival of Saturnalia, and the Ancient Scandinavians did it, too.  The reason they all got started doing this strange thing was because they thought mistletoe was a magical plant that made the boys and girls feel frisky and want to make puppies.  Or babies, if they were humans.  Also the mistletoe was a sign of peace, so if you had a fight, you could kiss and make up under the mistletoe.  And if you hung mistletoe in your house or barn, it could keep away the witches and other bad spirits.

So that's pretty much the explanation of the mistletoe plant and why it shows up at this time of year.  If you are feeling frisky, you can kiss under the mistletoe, but just remember not to eat it because if you do, you might die, which would not be a fun way to spend the holidays!

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