During the Christmas season, we bring a variety of plants inside our homes.

Many customs associated with these plants are pagan.

Amongst these is mistletoe. Its traditions are amongst Northern Europe’s last surviving examples of plant magic.

Mistletoe, a semi-parasitic plant, grows on various trees. The hosts are usually apples, hawthorns and poplars.

The semi-parasitic mistletoe is able to manufacture some food, the rest it gets from the host.

Mistletoe is hung above a door, and a kiss may be claimed. Worn as a buttonhole, the same ritual kiss can be claimed and a mistletoe berry removed after each kiss.

It has a darker past and in the 1960s it was banned from some parish churches.

A plant without roots or obvious source of nourishment, remaining green in winter, whose foliage and fruits glistened like soft gold in the weak winter sun, had magical powers that somehow signified spontaneous generation and continuing life.

No wonder then that mistletoe has been associated with keeping witches at bay, fertility and aphrodisiacs, protecting the crop on which it grew and as a cure for epilepsy!

On the Island, mistletoe has a local but increasing distribution sometimes harvested from apple trees.

However, most of the mistletoe sold at Christmas is imported from Northern France. British material comes from the Worcestershire region.

Festive holly is found in Britain and North West Europe. Until plant collectors brought their finds back, holly, yew, pine, juniper and box were the only sources of green foliage to be seen during winter.

Bright scarlet berries and dark green foliage make holly amongst the most dramatic of trees.

Berries are only produced on the female plants, as holly produces male and female flowers on different plants. Remember this if you are planting hollies. Plant mixed groups of both sexes to ensure a supply of berries.

In Cornwall, holly has been used as the Christmas tree. Holly has powerful associations with witchcraft, fertility and also Christianity, the red berries and spiny leaves standing for Christ’s blood, and the crown of thorns.

On the Island, a local name for holly is “Christmas”. Mixed wreaths of holly, ivy and mistletoe during the winter solstice predates Christianity in Europe, the evergreen plants seen as a symbol of continuing life.

Ivy, our only native evergreen climber, is loved and hated. It has two types of foliage. The best known are lobed juvenile leaves that either climb trees or creep over ground. Adult foliage lacks the lobes of the juvenile foliage and flower. These waxy green umbrella-like flowers are produced in autumn.

A good wildlife plant for winter, its nectar is attractive to butterflies, bees and insects. Birds eat the attractive black fruits.

The Victorians loved ivy, and cultivated many varieties. Queen Victoria is said to have worn Osborne ivy, intertwined with diamonds in her hair.

Finally, Butchers Broom, locally known as box or French holly.

This plant in the lily family is an indicator of ancient woodlands. The strange leaves are really flattened stems and produce tiny greenish white flowers. The spiny leaves were used to clean butcher’s blocks. It has large scarlet berries.

The Isle of Wight botanist, Dr William Bromfield, wrote in 1856 that butchers decked their Christmas sirloins with the twigs.

You are more likely to see it in gold or silver sprayed Christmas wreath.