Kiss and Tell

07th December 2018

Intriguing and scarce it may be, but there’s plenty of this seasonal decoration to go round at Goodwood.

Words by Gill Morgan

  • Christmas

  • Goodwood Estate

  • Nature

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There is a magic about mistletoe. Its potent meanings date back to the ancient Greeks, whose mythological heroes used its powers to gain access to the underworld. In Norse and Scandinavian legend, mistletoe is associated with peace, while in Druidic societies, it was thought to be a protection against evil. Our own lingering love of mistletoe dates from the Middle Ages, when the appearance of its green leaves and white berries in the depths of winter linked it to fertility and vitality – hence kissing under the mistletoe. Traditionally a berry is removed for each kiss claimed.

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Mistletoe's current scarcity in England only adds to its mystique. People have long been bewitched by the uncanny way it simply appears, rootless, in great tangled balls, high up in trees. This is because it’s a parasite that feeds off its host tree through the bark. Thriving particularly in fruit trees, the decline of English orchards (according to the National Trust, down by 60 per cent from the 1950s), has been a blow to our mistletoe supplies, which in turn has had a negative impact on wildlife – it provides winter sustenance for birds such as the mistle thrush and the blackcap and supports an array of rare moths and bugs. Although the fruit farms and orchards of Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Somerset still provide some of England’s mistletoe for Christmas revelries, much is now imported.

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Experience Christmas on the Goodwood Estate

No such measures are required, however, at Goodwood, as head forester Darren Norris happily reports: “We have loads of it, hanging in the big lime trees near the stables. It's partly thanks to our resident group of mistle thrushes, who eat the berries and then rub the sticky seeds on to branches, which then forms new clumps. The thrushes are very territorial, so they guard the trees over the winter months in order to protect the berries for themselves.” But there is one snag: "The hard part," says Darren, "is reaching it!"

  • Christmas

  • Goodwood Estate

  • Nature

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