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Latin name 'Viscum album'

Colour illustration of a sprig of mistletoe on old paper  Mistletoe mounted on a botanical specimen sheet  

Botanical print and herbarium sheet and of mistletoe, accession numbers 1990.11.1562 and 1974.38.16632

Mistletoe is a parasitic plant, which means that it grows on other plants, usually trees or shrubs. It grows most commonly on apple trees, but also on oak, blackthorn, hawthorn, lime, poplar, rowan and willow. It occurs from east Devon to Yorkshire, and is particularly common in central and southern England and around London.

It has long been held in esteem for its medicinal and magical properties. Many traditions and customs have arisen from the beliefs in the power of the mistletoe. Druids used the plant as an aphrodisiac and in Scandinavian tales it symbolises peace and love. Some saw the parasitic nature of the plant as more of a symbiosis, with the mistletoe believed to help keep the host alive during the long winter months. This led to it becoming a symbol for friendship which probably led eventually to our modern tradition of kissing under the mistletoe. Until the arrival of Christmas trees, the kissing bough held centre stage at Christmas when a berry was plucked with each kiss until none were left.

The images on this page show a herbarium sheet of mistletoe from the British and Irish herbarium, and a print from the prints and drawings collection of the botany department at World Museum. 

Botanical prints and drawings at World Museum

The prints and drawings collections of the botany department at World Museum are a valuable resource for the identification and study of plant biodiversity past, present and future. Please note that the print and herbarium sheet shown here are not currently on display.