By Tony Ridd
On a recent trip to Shropshire – part fun, and part work – we popped along to the annual auction of holly and mistletoe at Burford House in Tenbury Wells. Although probably not unique, it is certainly the largest and oldest in the UK, having been held for some 160 years and offering over 1000 lots.
This is prime mistletoe country, orchards are a familiar sight on the local landscape and the plant loves setting up home in the boughs of apple trees (other hosts include poplar, birch and oak). Talking to some regulars, I learned that gypsies and travellers are employed to pick fruit from the local orchards and when the season finishes they will then collect holly and mistletoe from the trees and hedgerows to sell.
There were many buyers, most travelling long distances in vans to buy stock for their nurseries and florists. Mistletoe is an evergreen parasitic plant, heavily steeped in folklore, the most commonly-known being the tradition for hanging it above a doorway at Christmas, which obliges two people who meet under it to kiss. After each kiss, a berry is picked until all the berries are gone, and then no more kissing is allowed! Just in case you are wondering…of course I bought some, and with plenty of berries!