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European mistletoe attached to a silver birch
Scientific classification

Santalaceae (Viscaceae)

Mistletoe is the common name for a group of semi-parasitic plants in the order Santalales. They grow attached to and inside the branches of a tree or shrub.


The name was first given to Viscum album (European mistletoe, Santalaceae), the only species native in Great Britain and much of Europe. Later the name was given to other related species, including Phoradendron serotinum (the eastern mistletoe of eastern North America, also Santalaceae).

The largest family of mistletoes, Loranthaceae, has 73 genera and over 900 species.[1]

In culture and myths

European mistletoe played a large role in Greek mythology, and is believed to be The Golden Bough of Aeneas, ancestor of the Romans.[2] The Norse god Baldr was killed with mistletoe.[3]

In Romanian traditions, mistletoe (vâsc in Romanian) is considered a source of good fortune.

William Shakespeare mentions it in Titus Andronicus, Act II, Scene I: "Overcome with moss and baleful mistletoe".

Mistletoe is often used as a Christmas decoration. Viscum album is used in Europe and Phoradendron serotinum is used in North America. According to custom, the mistletoe must not touch the ground between its cutting and its removal as the last of Christmas greens at Candlemas; it may remain hanging through the year, often to preserve the house from lightning or fire, until it was replaced the following Christmas Eve.[4]

Mistletoe (Phoradendron flavescens) is the state floral emblem for the State of Oklahoma.

Kissing under mistletoe at Christmas

According to a custom during Christmas, any two people who meet under a hanging of mistletoe are urged to kiss. The custom started in Scandinavia.[5][6]


  1. Judd W.S. et al 2002. Plant systematics: a phylogenetic approach. Sunderland MA: Sinauer.

    Template-specific style sheet:

    ISBN 0-87893-403-0
  2. Virgil (19 BCE) The Aeneid
  3. Gylfaginning, XLIX On-line text
  4. Drury 1987.
  5. Brewer, E. Cobham 1898. Dictionary of phrase and fable. "Kissing under the mistletoe" relates the custom to the death of Balder, without authority.
  6. The

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