Monday, December 2, 2013

Guest Contributors: Observations on European Mistletoe (Gui): by Jim Dickson and Genevieve (Jenny) Lecrivain

A little bit of European seasonal flavour by two E-Flora contributors...

The French name for Mistletoe is Gui; the g is hard, the pronunciation being like the Scots gie, meaning give. One of the first things to strike a Scottish botanist in Franche-Comté [the former 'free county' of Burgundy, France] is the abundance of Gui (Viscum album), a plant rarely noticed in Scotland where it is not native. There is a plant low down on the trunk of a Common Lime in Glasgow University campus. There is a bigger population in the middle of Edinburgh where some spread has taken place. Sparse other records have been made in Scotland. So that does not amount to much but here in Haute-Saône this parasite simply cannot be missed. All I have to do is walk down past the fruit trees to the end of Jenny’s back garden and there it is on an old Plum tree. However, it is particularly noticeable on the many plantations of Poplars (Peupliers, the often planted Populus x euamericana, a hybrid of Populus nigra). These trees can be infested, as can Willows and Apple trees. The crown of an old Apple can appear more Mistletoe than Apple.

The hosts as seen by us so far in Haute-Saône are:

Apple (Malus domestica), Birch (Betula pendula), Black Loqust  (Robinia pseudacacia), Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), Hazel (Corylus avellana), Plum (Prunus domestica), Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), Poplar (Populus spp), Small-leaved Lime (Tilia cordata), Willows (Salix spp).

Though short, this list makes the point that Gui grows on many different trees, as on Scots Pines in Tyrol but not in Scotland. In recent scientific papers no less than 27 different host trees have been found in central Warsaw and 59 species, cultivars and hybrids of trees are claimed as hosts in Croatia and Slovenia.

Though here in Haute-Saône Poplars in general are very susceptible, it seems the commonly planted Lombardy Poplar (Populus nigra cv. italica) is resistant.. In Warsaw the Polish botanists noted 612 trees of Populus x euamericana but only one Lombardy Poplar with Gui.

It is easy to find Lombardy Poplar totally lacking Gui very close to other Poplars which in winter can look partly green because of the abundant growth of the parasite.

There is no Oak on our list (Quercus robur) though we have been told of one place where Gui grows on Oak in Haute-Saône. It seems rarely on Oak anywhere. So how come the druids with golden sickles could gather Mistletoe from Oak, as perhaps on Angelsey, an island where Gui does not grow now (if it ever did)? That story comes from Pliny the Elder. Is it fully trustworthy? We hae oor doobts, as they say.  However, our scepticism may be misplaced regarding a special interest in Gui by the British (and/or other Celts) because of a very remarkable, intriguing, recent archaeological discovery from Germany. At Glauberg in Hesse the excavators dug up a life-size stone statue of a “Celtic Prince” from about 500 BC. He sports a headdress shaped convincingly like an opposite pair of Gui leaves. The shape is right even to the two not being a symmetrically matching pair. 

 At Poncey, France, six infested Poplars with Gui and, to the right, two Lombardy Poplars (with the upright branches) free of Gui, December 2012. Photo by Jim Dickson

Poplars along the Saône canal near Chemilly, France, everyone with Gui, November 2012. Photo by Jim Dickson.


Jim Dickson is a Scottish archeobotanist and photo contributor to E-Flora BC. He is well known for his work on Otzi, the Iceman. Jim, with his wife Genevieve Lecrivain, resides in both Scotland and France, but has visited BC to work on the BC iceman--Kwäday Dän Ts'ìnchí--studying the mosses that gave clues to his origin.  Some of Jim's publications include:  The Changing Flora of Glasgow: Urban and Rural Plants Through the Centuries, Bryophytes of the Pleistocene: The British Record and Its Chorological and Ecological Implications, Ancient Ice Mummies, and The Life and Death of Kwäday Dän Ts'ìnchí, an Ancient Frozen Body from British Columbia: Clues from Remains of Plants and Animals. 

View Jim's photos on E-Flora BC here. View Jenny's photos here.

Viscum album is not found in BC. It is native to Europe and western and southern Asia. Read more about this species here.

In British Columbia, we have four species of mistletoe reported, in the genus Arceuthobium: A. americanum, A. douglasii, A. laricis, and A. tsugense. A. tsugense has 3 subspecies.  Click on the links to view the atlas pages.


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