ROMANTICS are getting excited as mistletoe is spreading towards East Lancashire thanks to a tiny bird.

The blackcap, which usually fly south for the winter, but have more recently been coming to Britain, is helping to spread the plant to wooded areas.

The distinctive grey warbler, which has the nickname ‘northern nightingale’, carefully pick the berries on mistletoe apart and leave the seeds embedded in trees, like apple, lime, hawthorn, poplar, maple and willow.

Lancashire Wildlife Trust projects manager Mark Champion said mistletoe had now been found in Wigan and that it would not be long before it spread to other parts of Lancashire.

He said: “Mistletoe has been increasing its range.

“It used to be quite localised on the orchards of Herefordshire and Worcestershire where the climate is warm and moist but both here and on the continent the range has expanded.

“Most birds don’t like the berries of mistletoe because they don’t taste nice for starters and, quite frankly, the berries are full of sticky goo which puts birds right off their lunch.”

Mark added that the mistle thrush, which are normally associated with spreading the parasytic plant, were much less reliable as when the seeds pass through their guts, they rarely land in ideal places for growth.

But since the 1980s, the blackcap has been wintering in the UK and is causing a resurgence of the festive plant.

Mark said: “This small bird should migrate south for the winter but a small population from central Germany got lost and confused and they now fly west to winter in Britain. It is these birds which carefully tack the berry apart, thus avoiding the sticky bits and leaving the seed nicely embedded in the trees where it can sprout to continue its semi-parasitical lifestyle.”

Why do people kiss under the mistletoe?

  • The mistletoe was part of the mystical Celtic druids rites and was considered to be sacred.
  • It is probable that this is the last vestige of a winter fertility rite.

  • In cultures across pre-Christian Europe, mistletoe was seen as a representation of divine male essence as well as romance, fertility and vitality.
  • According to Pliny the Elder, the Celts considered it a remedy for barrenness in animals and an antidote to poison.
  • The earliest documented case of kissing under the mistletoe dates from 16th century England.