Country diary: mistletoe decorates a lime with its pearly berries | Environment

Under the unkind umbrella of a spreading oak, a stunted horse chestnut tree had received a white feather. Dropped from a dove, it had landed on a big brown bud as sticky as a toffee apple. The winter elements had then set to work, soaking and battering the kiss-curl of down into limpness, laying it out in the bud’s protective goo and soiling it with dust, seeds and shards of leaves. But still the feather refused to dim its light.

This tree had caught not one falling star but two. I spotted another white feather at waist height, glued fast to another terminal bud. The chances of one feather snagging must have been small. The chances of two…

Only a few metres away, other sticky accretions had given a bare lime tree thousands of leaves that were not its own. Thirty or more giant nodules of mistletoe sprouted from its boughs, like the pom-poms of fur on a poodle. Up in the crown, a mistle thrush (Turdus viscivorus) gave a rattling call, as if exerting its planter’s rights.

In its wild state, mistletoe is often overlooked, perhaps because the plant does not look much like the product. The berried sprigs, tied off and hung up for sale in a Christmas market, seem to bear little relation to the untidy clusters of overlapping leathery leaves that form ragged globes in the trees, and can seem in situ as disfiguring burrs or knots of twigs.

All but one of the mistletoe clumps in this lime tree held to the higher reaches, each hiding its fruit within an evergreen shell, but one bundle grew from a branch that was just beyond arm’s length of a trophy hunter’s shears. Within its delicate lattice shone berries of pearly translucence, neither white nor cream, but somewhere in between.

It is no wonder, at this otherwise leafless, lifeless end of the year, that the full-leaved berry-bearing trinity of holly, ivy and mistletoe should have found themselves festooned with human myths and legends, most of which are now barely understood. We stepped directly under the mistletoe … and kissed.

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