Mistletoe means kisses. This time of year, you find it in doorways, hanging above hopeful hosts. For every berry on your mistletoe bunch, the tradition goes, you’ll receive a kiss.

Every other season, though, we forget about mistletoe. As the leaves return to the hardwood trees in spring and summer, they conceal the bunches of green, woody stems growing on the highest branches.

Mistletoe, Phoradendron serotinum, is resourceful. The semiparasite not only draws nutrients from the tree on which it grows, but also takes advantage of its treetop position to soak up sunlight for its own photosynthesis.

And those berries that attract seasonal suitors also attract birds. Birds eat the berries and spread the sticky seeds to other trees, where the seeds latch on and produce new plants. Those berries, delicious to birds and the lifeline for mistletoe, are poisonous when eaten by humans. For us, their power lies in their presence.

But procuring those berries for your doorway isn’t easy. Since mistletoe grows in precarious locations, the traditional way to get some is to shoot it down. Even if your shot is lucky enough to break it free, the sprigs often lose their berries as they fall to the ground. But every one that manages to hang on offers hope for a Christmas kiss.

Leah Hughes is an associate editor at Our State magazine.

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