Mysterious Shape of Mistletoe

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By: Hartmut Ramm

Mistletoe is an alien, an outsider in the plant world and a visitor, as it were, from an earlier earth development. It never touches the ground, growing on the branches of certain trees. It makes no effort to develop form and color in its floral or­gans, and its growth cycle is slow and reverse the normal cycle, with fruit ripening in mid-winter.

Higher plants take their first step into life on earth by developing a root, which penetrates deep into the soil with vigor. Mistletoe also penetrates into its "soil," the branch of the host tree, to begin with; but as soon as the bark has been passed and the delicate, living cambium is reached, the pro­cess no longer moves toward the center. From, then on the joining lets the wood of the host form a wall around it and grows out toward the periphery as the branch thickens.

Foliage development, normally rich and diffentiated in "normal plants, and rising towards the sun, is slow and simple in mistletoe. Each stem produces only one pair of leaves per year, and these look like undeveloped cotyledons (seed leaves). A mistletoe bush looks like a community of seedlings.

Refusing to accept the developmental tendencies of the plant world in general, mistletoe always seeks to achieve its own spe­cial form—into a sphere. The two leaflets first lie close together, like hands folded in prayer. Then they gradually open, the angle between them growing until late autumn, when the two leaves are like a chalice. Next May they are at right angles to the stem. Then they widen and stretch once more, the angle between leaf tips moving through the circle's arc with continuously extending radius. By the time the leaves, still green, drop off in August, the radius has extended full circle.

From the third year on the stem of the young mistletoe plant begins to branch. The process is firmly guided to create a scaffolding in a sphere whose full form is achieved after seven years.

In March, when flowering is over, a third sphere begins to evolve. The undiffentiated female flower lengthens into a cylin­der. The middle part gradually expands, with growth at the base, and tip held back, so that an egg-shaped form develops. The fruit gets rounder and rounder until, in early autumn, it ripens into a tautly filled 'balloon'. During the beginning of December the berry changes inwardly and begins to shine more and more brightly. Countless tiny lipid droplets in the mucilage reflect the light of the sun. Mistletoe refuses to unfold and differentiate as other plants do. In the mature, fruit-bearing mistletoe plant countless spherical ele­ments interpenetrate, bearing infinite potential. It is perhaps this cosmic quality which made it sacred to the ancient druids.

Art by Walther Roggenkamp

In this unusual plant, the male blossom has an outward focus, with a 'tropical' aroma and pollen visited by bees. After blossoming, it wilts and falls off.The female blossom is almost scentless, hardly meriting to be called flower, and visited by ants and flies for its nectar. Its concentration is turned inward, developing the berry which, when ripe, is eaten by birds, The seeds and mucilage are then dropped, in the bird's excretion, on the trees, where they take hold.

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