WITH the festive season now well under way, the plant synonymous with Christmas is thriving at Cotehele and is being sold to help conserve the National Trust estate’s orchards.
Cotehele is one of the few National Trust locations in the South West where mistletoe is thriving and work has begun on collecting hundreds of bunches of one of the most traditional symbols of Christmas.
Chris Groves, National Trust senior gardener, said Cotehele’s traditional orchard provided a perfect habitat for mistletoe to flourish.
‘Part of the essential conservation work we carry out at the property involves cutting it back and removing the distinctive mistletoe clumps,’ he said. ‘This work helps encourage a healthy growth of both male and female mistletoe and ensures the mistletoe doesn’t overwhelm the trees it’s growing on.
‘We sell the mistletoe at the property in the run up to Christmas, providing a valuable source of income to the property, which is ploughed back into helping us protect Cotehele’s orchards.’
Cotehele is an area historically famed for its apple and cherry orchards. The old orchard, which dates from pre 1731, is full of character and mystery, while the ‘Mother Orchard’, which contains 300 trees and 120 apple varieties, was planted by the local community in 2007 to establish a gene pool of heritage varieties.
In the UK mistletoe has long been associated with Christmas and mid-winter customs, probably dating way back into prehistory as a symbol of ongoing life in the winter months. The kissing custom is a very British version of those ancient traditions.
Data shows that mistletoe distribution is closely linked to lightly managed, traditional orchards, particularly in the most prolific mistletoe growing areas of the South West and the Midlands.
Chris added: ‘Mistletoe benefits from management. Unchecked, it will swamp its host tree and ultimately cause it to die. So we ensure we undertake regular, managed cropping making sure that the host tree remains productive, while ensuring that a healthy population of mistletoe will persist.’
Mistletoe also plays an important role in supporting wildlife.
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