Christmas is nearly upon us and we all know what that means: decorations!
Why don’t you try something new this year? Santa and reindeers are classics, but what about mistletoe and holly?
And no, these aren’t the same plant. There are differences between them. So how do you choose which one to get? Here are the five categories that helped me decide.
I hope they can do the same for you!
Let’s get started!
Categories And Their Winners
Many gardeners and decorators mistake mistletoe for holly. Don’t let this happen to you!
Here are the categories in which these two plants compete!
I have to say that holly is the clear winner in this category. Dark red berries and deep red foliage are true Christmas indicators.
You can even grow this shrub instead of a Christmas tree if you want something more modern. If not, stick to mantelpiece decorations.
Of course, it was a close call. Olive-green foliage and white mistletoe berries are breathtaking, too.
And yet, Christmas isn’t the time to be subtle, and mistletoe brings just that.
However, no one forbids you from including both plants in this year’s holiday decor!
This category also has a clear winner, and its name is mistletoe. Why? Because this plant has something more than its looks.
Unlike holly, mistletoe has health benefits. It can boost your immune system, help with stress, anxiety, diabetes, etc. (1)
Holly is only suited for decorations. You can turn it into a privacy screen or use it to practice your woodworking skills.
In any case, it doesn’t have any health benefits. Or rather, no one has proven any. There are speculations about helping heart diseases, cough, digestion, and fever. But no one can say anything for certain.
The tradition category was a close call, but I sided with holly on this one. Its red berries symbolize Christ’s blood and the evergreen foliage, afterlife.
It has a clear Christmas tradition.
Of course, both of these plants have traditions that run deeper. In fact, Romans used this plant in Saturnalia – a festival in honor of the god Saturn. Although, it has Celtic roots, as well.
Mistletoe, too, has Celtic roots. But its Norse mythology is captivating. Mistletoe symbolized the love between Frigga and her son Balder.
She loved her son and demanded that everyone do the same. But Loki had other plans. He used mistletoe to make an arrow and gave it to Balder’s brother Hoth.
Loki tricked Hoth into killing Balder. Then Frigga mourned her son and where her tears fell, white berries sprouted. She professed that mistletoe would never hurt anyone else and turned it into a symbol of love.
The tradition is deep, but it’s not clear why we connect it to Christmas. People popularized it in the 18th century and used it as a holiday decor.
I have to side with mistletoe on this one. Its berries aren’t toxic. In fact, they provide various health benefits.
Unlike mistletoe, holly is poisonous. Its red berries cause stomach issues, from nausea and vomiting to diarrhea, fatigue, and dehydration.
Growth Habit: Holly
This is it! This is the deciding category.
And the winner is – HOLLY!
Why? For one simple reason. It grows on its own. Holly doesn’t parasitise other plants to live. It is a tree or shrub and it behaves like one.
Mistletoe lives a different kind of life. It can photosynthesize, but it takes moisture and nutrients away from its host. It can’t live on its own.
What’s worse, mistletoe can slow down the growth of its host. It can even kill it if you don’t deal with the issue on time!
Who’s Your Winner?
Here’s my winner – holly!
It looks amazing and has a true Christmas tradition. And the best part of all is that you don’t have to sacrifice other plants for it to flourish.
But, that doesn’t mean my home doesn’t host mistletoe. I love this plant, despite its parasitic nature.
Its white berries bring purity. They get along with my holly decorations and Christmas tree, too.
Who’s your winner? Tell us in the comments!
1. Lubeck, B. (2023). What Is Mistletoe? VeryWell Health.