6 things you didn’t know about mistletoe

Discover fascinating facts about this iconic festive plant. 

Bunch of mistletoe

Mistletoe © Teodora Djordjevic / Getty


Mistletoe is a common name for many plants in the order Santalales. There is one native species in the UK, Viscum albums, which is often best spotted during winter when many other plants have lost their leaves. 

1. Parasite

Mistletoe is a hemi (partial) parasite which attaches to a tree via sucker-like roots and absorbs some water and nutrients from its host plant. However, it also produces some of its own food via photosynthesis.

2. Host preferences

It can be found on a variety of host plants including crab apple, sycamore, ash and hawthorn. However it is rarely found on oak.

3. Male or female plants

Unlike many plants which are both male and female, mistletoe is in a group of plants that are dioecious. This means that plants are either male or female. It is the female plants that have the white berries.

4. Magical properties

In the Middle Ages, it was believed that mistletoe have a variety of magical properties such as stopping the trances of epileptics and keeping witches at bay.

5. Kissing traditions

A sprig is traditionally hung above the door and a berry removed with each kiss.

6. Obligate insects


There are a number of insects which are only found on mistletoe, including mistletoe marble moth (Celypha woodiana) and a bug (Anthocoris visci).