Oklahoma State Flower - Mistletoe

Mistletoe's dark green leaves and white berries represent Oklahoma's official state colors.

Mistletoe's dark green leaves and white berries represent Oklahoma's official state colors.

In 1893, Oklahoma adopted mistletoe (Phoradendron serotinum) as its floral emblem. Mistletoe was one of the state’s first official symbols, even before Oklahoma was accepted into statehood. Although Oklahoma adopted the Oklahoma rose -- a hybrid tea rose -- as its official state flower in 2004, mistletoe remains the state’s official floral emblem.

Semi-Parasitic Shrub

Mistletoe is a semi-parasitic shrub that attaches to the limbs of trees. Because mistletoe has green leaves, it can make some of its own food, but it gets nutrients and water from its host plant. Mistletoe is more noticeable during the fall and winter months when the leaves have fallen off its host trees. In Oklahoma, the plant is mostly found n the southern regions of the state. While some mistletoe requires a particular species of host, others have a broad range of hosts -- mostly hardwood trees and shrubs.

Climate Zones

There are more than 1,000 species of mistletoe found in various geographic locations around the world. Most are found in tropical and subtropical regions. There are about 200 species of American mistletoe that grow on trees along the Atlantic coast from New Jersey to Florida and west to Texas. The plant thrives best in temperate climate zones. A species of European mistletoe is found in northern California. Birds that feed on the berries of female plants spread mistletoe infections. They excrete the seeds found in the berries in their droppings on tree branches. Since birds usually perch in the tops of taller and older trees, young trees aren’t infected by mistletoe as often.

Folklore

Mistletoe has a long history of folklore dating back thousands of years. In Europe, the Germans and Celts revered oak mistletoe as a magical and sacred plant associated with life and fertility. Ancient Greeks started the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe during holidays and solstice celebrations. They later incorporated the practice into their marriage ceremonies. American legend has it that settlers in Oklahoma laid mistletoe on graves when no other flowers were available. The evergreen plant has since come to symbolize the perseverance of the early Oklahoma settlers.

Christmas Tradition

Today, mistletoe is used as a traditional Christmas decoration. While the use of mistletoe as a decoration dates back to the Druids, in the Middle Ages people hung branches of mistletoe from their ceilings to ward off evil spirits. The Greeks believed that mistletoe had the power to bestow fertility, which may be why it became part of their marriage rites. The custom of kissing under the mistletoe carried through to 18th-century England, when kissing under a ball of mistletoe grew to be a Christmas tradition. Many of the same early customs attached to European mistletoe carried over to American mistletoe with the arrival of the settlers. In America and throughout western European countries, the significance of exchanging a kiss under the mistletoe came to symbolize a promise of romance or lasting friendship.

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