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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & Owner
Ray Rasmussen, General Editor

Volume 12, Number 4, December 2018

Mark Gilbert
Nottingham, UK


A young crow, a yearling, is attracted to a strangely luxuriant clump of branches on a towering beech. He darts upward to investigate. This early in Spring the rest of the tree is bare, yet this ball of branches is thick with dark waxy leaves. The crow is pleased to see something else: tiny parcels of striking white berries exuding an enticing scent. As he is the only crow here he moves quickly, pulling plump berries from their tethers to manoeuvre them down his throat with a flick of his beak. They are coated with a sticky syrup which tastes so sweet it drives him to gobble more berries. A problem, however, as they are so tacky they start to stick to the outside of his beak. One persistent berry refuses to budge when he tries to shake it off, and the crow suddenly feels vulnerable in this state of helpless distraction. He flaps back down to his previous perch at the top of an apple tree, under cover of sprouting blossoms. With some skill and patience he manages to transfer his unwelcome passenger onto its next host before scooting away across the orchard …

So the seed germinates, sending a specially adapted hypocotyl through the apple’s protective bark to tap into its lifelines of water and nutrients. Next it shoots up its primitive first leaves (cotyledons) to gather light and carbon dioxide. Eventually it develops its own sphere of foliage, a tiny tree-within-a-tree, fueled by a network of roots spliced into the host’s canopy, its permanent home.

This parasite will never touch soil. In time it will produce its own innocuous flowers which will go to seed come Winter’s flocks of hungry crows.

a drunken fumble
under the mistletoe



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