No, not a new Christmas game, a new nature survey that needs local volunteers.
Mistletoe has an air of Christmas magic and is steeped in folk lore and mythology as Janet Dowling told us last year (Sidmouth Herald 10/12/2022), but that mythology is bound up in its curious lifestyle. Mistletoe doesn’t grow in the ground, it is perched high in the canopy of various trees, a hemi-parasite with a fascinating relationship with the trees.
European mistletoe (Viscum album) grows in green clumps on various trees across the UK, especially noticeable in winter once trees have lost their leaves. While mistletoe can harm the trees it grows on, it can also benefit other species, like winter birds that eat its berries.
The mistletoe around the fruit orchards of the Vale of Evesham is well documented and there is the famous Tenbury Mistletoe Festival which takes place on Saturday 2nd December this year. But not much is known about how abundant mistletoe is in the rest of the UK, is it thriving or is it in decline? Exciting new research aims to gather data and forecast the future of this intriguing plant. A brand-new citizen science project led by Ollie Spacey at the University of Oxford aims to learn all about the wonders of mistletoe to help predict the future of this crucial native species.
Ollie Spacey is in the second year of his PhD at the University of Oxford, studying the biology of mistletoe, and is supported by The Tree Council, Oxford Botanical Gardens, and Fera Science (formerly the Institute of Plant Pathology). He is particularly interested in how mistletoe interacts with its host trees and what this can tell us about plant parasitism more broadly.
The project will be asking volunteer citizen scientists (we are lucky to have so many in the Sid Valley, from water monitors to butterfly counters) to enjoy a winter walk somewhere in the valley or beyond. As they walk, they need to look up into the winter tree canopies to find and record where mistletoe is growing locally. To start you off, there is a large clump in a Lime tree by Culver House in Vicarage Road.
If you would like to join the project, you will find more details in the video below.