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Leaves and berries of American mistletoe (Phoradendron serotinum)—John H. Gerard
Any of many species of semiparasitic green plants of the families Loranthaceae and Viscaceae, especially those of the genera Viscum, Phoradendron, and Arceuthobium, all members of the Viscaceae family. V. album, the traditional mistletoe of literature and Christmas celebrations, is found throughout Eurasia. This yellowish evergreen bush (2–3 ft, or 0.6–0.9 m, long) droops on the branch of a host tree. The thickly crowded, forking branches bear small leathery leaves and yellowish flowers, which produce waxy-white berries containing poisonous pulp. A modified root penetrates the bark of the host tree and forms tubes through which water and nutrients pass from the host to the slow-growing but persistent parasite. The North American counterpart is P. serotinum. Mistletoe was formerly believed to have magical and medicinal powers, and kissing under hanging mistletoe was said to lead inevitably to marriage.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on mistletoe, visit Britannica.com.