Time to kiss mistletoe goodbye? What's behind shortage in southwest Virginia

ROANOKE (WSLS 10)- A tradition for millions of families across the United States, mistletoe, is getting harder to find this holiday season. From nurseries to christmas tree farms and even florists, it seems many retailers in Southwest Virginia are having a hard time getting their hands on the holiday plant.

Greenbrier Nurseries, one of the biggest in the Roanoke Valley, is fully stocked with poinsettia plants, Christmas cactuses and of course, Christmas Trees. But employees say this year, they've had a hard time getting their hands on any mistletoe. Typically, the first shipment of mistletoe is in by Thanksgiving-- but this year, they're still waiting to get some of the festive plant in their shop.

"Lots of people have been asking," says Eric Shibley, with Greenbrier Nurseries. "We're still waiting to get ours. We've put it on order, so hopefully it will be here for this weekend so we can get it out to the people."

That's been the case for quite a few stores this Christmas-- a lack of mistletoe, either because it's too hard to find or if they can find it, it's too hard to get down.

After checking dozens of stores and shops throughout the Roanoke Valley, one stand on the Roanoke City Market, Glenn Muncy's Booth, finally had mistletoe. He says he was able to get his hands on the plant the way people have gotten it for years, by shooting it down out of a tree.

"My brother is a marine and he's always a good shot," says Muncy. "I'm a good shot, but he's a better shot. He went and shot it out of the tree to make sure we had some down here today."

Muncy says it was a long search for his brother, who had a difficult time finding much mistletoe. A majority of the mistletoe he was able to find didn't have any berries on it, which is something that would keep many people from buying it.

"That's common, you have batches that have berries and some of it won't," says Muncy. "But I think this year has been some of the worst."

Local plant experts say it's often hard to nail down what can lead to a good year for berries versus a bad one. But many people, like Muncy, say this is a year that's just not providing a lot of the good mistletoe.

With just eleven days left until Christmas Eve-- right now is the perfect time to buy mistletoe and hang it up, to keep it from drying out before the holidays. When people do finally get their hands on the mistletoe-- Muncy says it's magical.

"Their eyes light up," he says. "you can tell, they're like 'Oh yeah!' They're holding it over people's heads, stealing a few kisses. They're overjoyed."

The white berries are thought to bring good luck to couples that kiss under the mistletoe plant.
The white berries are thought to bring good luck to couples that kiss under the mistletoe plant.

It's a holiday tradition that started hundreds of years ago. The first reference to Christmas mistletoe here in the U.S., was in the 1800s. Historian, Washington Irving, referred to it in "Christmas Eve," saying that each time a couple kissed under the mistletoe, they removed one of the white berries. Once all of the berries were gone, so was the mistletoe's good luck.

Kissing under the mistletoe is a tradition that's still alive and well this holiday season, as the hunt continues for the festive plant.