A holiday fixture grows in Southside

Published 7:07 am Thursday, December 14, 2023

Mistletoe lore dates back centuries — to the Celtic druids and Norse mythology — as a symbol of fertility, peace and love.

“(European mistletoe) is actually a different species and different genus, but they look really similar,” explained Jordan Metzgar, a biologist and curator for the Massey Herbarium. “When Europeans came to North America, there was this other mistletoe here, so they just transferred a lot of the mythology and traditions with it.”

Metzgar explained that of the seven native mistletoe species in the U.S., only one grows in Virginia — Phoradendron leucarpum — commonly called American mistletoe or Eastern mistletoe. And while it’s the plant of holiday romance, its true characteristics are a little more ominous.

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In fact, Southside is right on the edge of where the plant can be found. Mistletoe thrives in the temperate climate of Virginia’s coastal plains and swampy forests. Its bushy clumps can be spotted standing out against bare branches during late fall, winter and early spring.