When the leaves are off the trees this time of year you can scan the high branches of the towering oaks in some forests for glimpses of American mistletoe. Identified nearly 2000 years ago, Anglo Saxons named the plant "mistle-tan" meaning "dung twig" after bird droppings on a branch. It was thought the plant's existence was entwined with birds but it is actually a parasitic plant that is also known as the Vampire Plant.
The mistletoe sends out a root-like structure into the bark of hardwood trees and extracts all its nutrients from its host. The mistletoe's mooching won't kill the oak - if the host dies, it dies. You can recognize mistletoe by its clumps of 2-inch greenish-yellow leaves and clusters of white berries. The tradition of kissing under a sprig of mistletoe dates back hundreds of years.
The proper procedure is to pick one berry off the plant for every kiss received. When the berries are gone, so are the kisses. Make sure you dispose of the berries after you're through bussing - they are toxic to dogs and people. Or so it was long believed. But actual studies on the toxicity of mistletoe have shown that, although it contains some poisonous elements, it is not deadly: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/11/health/11real.html. Still, it can make your dog sick so keep an eye out for stray berries on the floor.
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