AT this time of year thoughts are turning to Christmas.

Trees are already going up and lights switched-on in towns and cities.

Very soon people will start to decorate their own homes in time for the festive season.

In many cases a vital ingredient in the decorations are holly and mistletoe.

This is especially important in Tenbury and the Teme Valley where the annual mistletoe sales are about to start.

These take place on the last Tuesday in November and the first two Tuesdays in December and this has been happening for the past 160 years.

It is very important for the area because it brings buyers from all over the country and even parts of Europe.

Mistletoe may have connotations with romance but as a parasite it is distinctly unromantic.

Tenbury and the surrounding area is prime country for mistletoe because of the many apple and fruit orchards.

It grows on the branches of trees and in time weakens its host and if left will result in the death of the tree that provides its home.

This is bad news for the trees and also for the mistletoe - a truly successful parasite wants to benefit from but not kill its host.

However, this can generally be prevented by proper management including appropriate pruning.

Experts say that there are in the order of 1,500 different species of mistletoe around the world but the one with which we are most familiar is the Northern European mistletoe with its distinctive white berries.

There is also a European mistletoe with striking red berries and this is most readily found in Spain.

However, it is the mistletoe with white berries that has the links with kissing and fertility as the berries were thought to be similar in appearance to semen.

According the folklore any man is entitled to have a kiss from a woman under mistletoe whilst it is extremely bad luck for the lady to decline the request.

Mistletoe is linked with druids and ancient folklore.

Its association with Christmas is alleged to go back to the ancient mid-winter festival in the Northern hemisphere, around the time of the winter solstice (the shortest day) that occurs every year on December 21 or 22, a few days before Christmas.

Although the solstice is the shortest day, for complex reasons, the latest sunset actually occurs a bit earlier in December whilst the latest morning sunrise occurs a few days after the solstice.

The mystery and myths of mistletoe are timeless.