For some, decking the halls also means hanging the mistletoe. And finding fresh mistletoe can be as simple as looking upward.
"It's a weed, basically," said Alyson Jennings, a sales associate with Southern Floral Designers in Martinez. "It grows in trees and is always there. We just don't see it until the leaves fall."
Green patches of mistletoe can be found growing in trees all around the area.
How does it get there?
Birds feed on the berries found on mistletoe and then excrete them to new host trees, according to the University System of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. When the seeds germinate, the plant grows through the bark of the host tree and into the vascular system of the tree, where it obtains water and minerals.
Where exactly does the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe originate?
The Web site theholidayspot.com explains that mistletoe has long held a prominent place in European folklore, believed to bestow life and fertility and to act as protection against poison. It also is said to be an aphrodisiac.
The same Web site notes that in folklore, a girl who finds herself standing under a ball of mistletoe simply cannot refuse to be kissed, for a kiss "could mean deep romance or lasting friendship and goodwill."
Another story, which hails the medicinal power of mistletoe, ends with a proclamation that no harm will befall those who accept a kiss -- a token of love -- under the mistletoe.
Over the years, that story has translated into a Christian way of thinking and accepting the mistletoe as "the emblem of love which conquers death. Its medicinal properties, whether real or imaginary, make it a symbol of the Tree of Life, the leaves of which are for the healing of the nations, thus paralleling it to the virgin birth of Christ."
Although long steeped in holiday traditions, mistletoe can present its own set of problems for the host tree, and can even cause tree damage.
A Cooperative Extension Service publication on mistletoe notes that it grows slowly at first, which means that it might be years before seeds are produced.
"Healthy trees are able to tolerate small mistletoe infestations, but individual branches may be compromised and susceptible to wind or cold injuries," according to the publication. "Heavy infestations may reduce the overall plant health or kill a tree, especially if the tree is already stressed from environmental factors."
Jennings said she knows no one who grows or propagates mistletoe.
"You can't really keep it alive," she said. "It's an epiphyte; it grows off of other things."
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.