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Hunting mistletoe

Kathy Werner
Posted 2/9/24

I nearly forgot to clear up one little mystery about our Christmas cruise from Vienna to Budapest that I teased in my first article about this trip.  

While we were driving into Vienna from …

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Hunting mistletoe


I nearly forgot to clear up one little mystery about our Christmas cruise from Vienna to Budapest that I teased in my first article about this trip. 

While we were driving into Vienna from the airport, I noticed that there seemed to be big green balls of some kind of vegetation in many of the otherwise leafless trees we passed. Puzzling. It was definitely not a bird nest—too green. And not a squirrel dray (nest) either, unless European squirrels hire interior designers to decorate their digs.

While we were having lunch aboard our ship one day on the Danube, I again spotted these green balls in the trees on shore and asked our waiter what they were. He told us it was a bird’s nest.  Feeling pretty sure that he was incorrect, I went up the cultural food chain for what I hoped was more accurate information.

Wandering upstairs from the dining room after lunch, I inquired of our esteemed Cruise Director Valentin to identify the green plants growing high in the barren branches of the trees. “Ah,” he replied, “that is mistletoe!”

He explained that mistletoe is a parasite that grows in trees. Who knew? Not I! As I passed this fascinating information along to my shipmates, I discovered that some of them already knew! It grows in trees all over Europe. One woman told me she had been given the mistletoe talk on her trip through Poland. Another person said that mistletoe also grows in trees down South in the good old USA, and locals use rifles to shoot it out of the trees to harvest it for the Christmas season.  They have down-home mistletoe hunts. Who knew?

Mistletoe can also be gathered by pruning and it often is, so that it doesn’t harm the tree by stealing all its nutrients. However, it is often so high up in these old-growth trees that shooting makes more sense unless you’re one of those daredevil squirrels I see leaping from branch to branch in my backyard. By the way, a group of squirrels is called a scurry, and I am not a fan.

Birds like mistletoe because it offers them cover to build their nests (so I may have to give our waiter partial credit, I guess). The birds also use its white berries for food, but the plant is toxic to humans and pets.

What can I say? The wonderful world of mistletoe, heretofore unknown to me, is endlessly fascinating.

I must say that the green leaves of mistletoe give a cheerful look to the drab trees of winter and I’m glad I got to see it on my Christmas Market tour.

The photos I took on the trip give you an idea of the potential harvest awaiting the Mistletoe Hunters of the Danube. Quite impressive.


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