Rhipsalis Mistletoe Cacti (Mistletoe Cap)
The rhipasilis mistletoes are a species of cacti native to Mexico and Central America. They grow up to 2 feet tall with smooth green leaves that turn yellowish brown when they dry out.
Their stems are brittle and have sharp spines that resemble needles, which give them their common name “mistletoe”. These plants produce white flowers in spring, followed by small red berries in summer.
They are found throughout much of North America from Alaska to Texas. Some are cultivated commercially as ornamental shrubs or trees.
Mistletoe is one of the most popular plant names in folklore and mythology due to its association with death and immortality. The Latin word mittelae means “death” and it was used as a symbol for Hades in Greek mythology where he ruled over the underworld.
The Latin root mittere means “to hide”, so the plant’s name is derived from its ability to conceal itself.
It is believed that the mistletoe was brought to Europe by pilgrims returning home from the Crusades in 1095 AD. By 1291, mistletoe had become a popular Christmas tree decoration and was even included in some English laws.
In England, mistletoe became illegal during the reign of Henry VIII because it was considered a poisonous plant.
A Brief History of Mistletoe
The first known record of mistletoe was in the 1600-1700 BC plant classification system developed by the Sumerians, an ancient civilization located in southern Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq). Although mistletoe was originally classified as a type of tree, it soon became reclassified as a parasite and regarded as a symbol of infidelity.
The ancient Egyptians worshipped Mistletoe because of its yellowish-white berries and its ability to cure infertility. The herb was especially popular among women who wished to become pregnant.
In Scandinavia, mistletoe was used as a peace symbol due to its white berries that replaced the red blood of enemies after they had been killed.
Mistletoe was not only used for medicinal purposes such as treating infertility, but also in magic spells related to love and fertility. The popular English phrase “Briar, Thorn, and Mistletoe” meaning “to have a narrow escape” comes from an old Anglo-Saxon charm intended to increase fertility.
The charm involved the words “Briar” (to prick or scratch), “Thorn” (to wound), and “Mistletoe” (to conceal).
Mistletoe is a poisonous plant that contains harmful compounds such as Mistletoe Lectin (Thaumatin). This lectin binds to sugar compounds on the surface of certain cells and allows entry into the cell by ripping open its membrane.
This process is vital in killing tumor cells and other diseased cells.
More inforamtion about Mistletoe.
Sources & references used in this article:
Influence of Pleistocene Glacial/Interglacial Cycles on the Genetic Structure of the Mistletoe Cactus Rhipsalis baccifera (Cactaceae) in Mesoamerica by JF Ornelas, F Rodríguez-Gómez – Journal of Heredity, 2015 – academic.oup.com
A Unique Cactus with Scented and Possibly Bat‐Dispersed Fruits: Rhipsalis juengeri by BO Schlumpberger, RA Clery, W Barthlott – Plant Biology, 2006 – Wiley Online Library
Opuntia cacti of North America: an overview by JP Rebman, DJ Pinkava – Florida Entomologist, 2001 – JSTOR
Specialized seed dispersal in epiphytic cacti and convergence with mistletoes by T Campbell-Barker – The Society of Malawi Journal, 2004 – JSTOR
Introduced and invasive cactus species: a global review by A de C. Guaraldo, B de O. Boeni, MA Pizo – Biotropica, 2013 – Wiley Online Library
Cacti in the Living Plant Collection of the Boyce Thompson Southwestern Arboretum by A Novoa, JJ Le Roux, MP Robertson, JRU Wilson… – AoB Plants, 2015 – academic.oup.com