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Shedding holiday light on the mystery that is mistletoe

Oh, ho the mistletoe
Hung where you can see
Somebody waits for you
Kiss her once for me
 

–“A Holly Jolly Christmas” 

Even if you’ve never seen mistletoe, much less smooched beneath it, it may have been a part of your holiday tradition since childhood.

That’s because the 1964 Christmas special, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” features Burl Ives, in the voice of narrator Sam the Snowman, singing “A Holly Jolly Christmas.” All the while, prospector Yukon Cornelius hoists a tower of four elves hanging mistletoe and Rudolph gives the doe Clarice a peck on her cheek.

The poinsettia may be the most popular Christmas plant, but mistletoe seems to have the edge when it comes to appearances in Christmas songs. Everyone from Ives and Perry Como to Michael Buble and Alan Jackson has covered “A Holly Jolly Christmas.” Justin Bieber has a song titled, simply, “Mistletoe.”

For many of us, however, mistletoe is a mystery. Royer’s sells fresh poinsettias by the tens of thousand, in dozens of sizes and varieties, but a much smaller quantity of preserved mistletoe, offered in a four-inch cluster with a bow packaged in a box.

“It’s a novelty more than anything now,” said Cheryl Brill, Royer’s chief operating officer. The typical customer is a young guy.

Not to be eaten

Yet while mistletoe is associated with kissing and Christmas, its role in nature is anything but beneficent. In fact, it’s the Grinch of holiday plants, an honest-to-goodness parasite.

“Mistletoe is an evergreen pest that attaches itself to trees, plants and shrubs, stealing their nutrients and water,” a CBS News story noted. “This can weaken or disfigure the host plant, and eventually even kill it.”

The genus name for North American oak mistletoe, the most common species in the eastern United States, is “phoradendron,” which is Greek for “tree thief.”

Mistletoe is difficult to remove because its seeds sprout and grow through the bark of trees and into their tissues, extending up and down within the branches.

“The most effective way to fight it is to remove an infected branch or limb entirely,” according to CBS.

Mistletoe has a misanthropic side, too. A person eating any part of it may experience drowsiness, blurred vision, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, weakness or seizures. These symptoms are caused by phoratoxin, which can be found in mistletoe berries and especially in the leaves. (Several types of mistletoe can be poisonous to pets, too.)

“Throw in the fact that some species are poisonous, and mistletoe starts to seem less like something you’d spy mama kissing Santa under and more like something Krampus would plant on your Christmas tree,” an article on the National Geographic website noted.

Krampus is a half-goat, half-demon in folklore that punishes children who misbehave, in contrast with St. Nicholas rewarding well-behave children with gifts.

‘Mystic branch’

But in this season of giving, it seems only fair to consider mistletoe in a positive light. Because it steals water and nutrients, mistletoe stays green year-round and is a symbol of fertility to some people.

“The plant’s parasitic nature is probably why people began to think mistletoe was special enough to kiss under in the first place,” according to National Geographic.

In Europe, according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute website, “mistletoe extracts are among the most prescribed therapies for cancer patients.” However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved the use of mistletoe as a treatment for cancer or any other medical condition.

Ancient Anglo-Saxons noticed that mistletoe often grows near bird droppings, according to the National Wildlife Federation. Hence, its name derived from “mistel,” which means dung, and “tan,” which means twig. Therefore, mistletoe means “dung-on-a-twig.”

Studies suggest that when certain species of mistletoe were removed from ecosystems in Australia and Mexico, birds suffered.

As it matures, mistletoe can grow into thick, often rounded masses of branches and stems that can reach as big as five feet wide and 50 pounds and sometimes called “witches’ brooms.” Some birds, including wrens, chickadees, mourning doves and pygmy nuthatches, nest in these witches brooms.

Some butterflies lay their eggs in mistletoe, their young eating the leaves and adults (and some native bees) feeding on mistletoe nectar. Mistletoe’s white berries are a no-no for people, but they are favored in the fall and winter by the likes of deer, elk, squirrels, chipmunks and porcupines.

Clearly mistletoe endures as a symbol of Christmas joy and wonder. Charles Dickens, in the “Pickwick Papers” in the 1830s, called mistletoe the “mystic branch.”

The Hallmark Channel carries on that tradition with movies bearing titles such as, “Moonlight and Mistletoe, “The Mistletoe Promise,” and “The Mistletoe Secret.”

Of course, the happy ending is always sealed with a kiss.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lancaster County-grown poinsettias are arriving at Royer’s stores

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It’s two weeks before Thanksgiving, but Christmas is in full bloom at Esbenshade’s Greenhouses Inc. just north of Lititz.

In one vast expanse of the so-called Gilbert greenhouse, the floor is a carpet of red poinsettias. A visitor asks Roger Esbenshade, president of the family-owned company, how many there are in this one area.

“Probably 25,000,” he said. “This is maybe 10 percent of the crop.”

Royer’s Flowers & Gifts has been an Esbenshade’s wholesale customer for decades. Royer’s sells some 20,000 poinsettias every holiday season, most of which are grown by Esbenshade’s.

Only a week prior, Royer’s CEO Tom Royer and Geoff Royer, vice president of central operations, were at Esbenshade’s to review the poinsettia crop.

Esbenshade’s grows nine to 10 sizes and 30-some varieties. Red remains the most popular by far, but even red comes in seven or eight different varieties. The biggest plants come in 10-inch pots and grow to 25 to 30 inches in height.

Depending on the size, the growing season can range from three to five months. What are now almost fully developed plants began as two and one-half inch stems. From the end of October until mid-to-late November, the poinsettias required only watering and disease control while Esbenshade’s tended to its spring crops.

But with the holiday season here, once again poinsettias are the focus of attention.

“For me, being responsible for the growing, it’s a very challenging time,” Esbenshade said. “It’s not a difficult crop to grow, but a lot of things can go wrong.”

He lists the challenges of controlling plant height, temperature, nutrition, diseases.

“It can vary from year to year,” he said.

‘Longevity for the customer’

Timing is important. That sea of red described above arrived only four weeks earlier. All poinsettias are green until their ultimate color reveals itself. Some plants will get redder still, which dictates when they will be shipped to customers.

“We try to have good color development but not overly developed so that they have longevity for the customer,” Esbenshade said.

Wholesale customers such as Royer’s typically place master orders, or what they anticipate needing for the year. Then they draw on that order on a daily or weekly basis.

For example, Esbenshade’s will deliver to Royer’s distribution center in Lebanon on 15 dates between mid-November and mid-December.

Esbenshade’s has approximately 30 workers tending to poinsettias at this busy time. When orders arrive, the workers wrap individual plants in plastic sleeves and place them in corrugated boxes for shipping via trucks.

The plants that are on the floor receive water and nutrients from below. Water rises to a depth of two inches through holes in what are called flood floors. Once the plants have absorbed what they need, the water level lowers and excess moisture drains from the pots.

If cared for properly, poinsettias can last for months if not years. They will cycle back to green in the off-season.

Esbenshade’s mother, Nancy, founded the company with her husband, Lamar, in 1960.

“My mom, she usually has hers up till Easter,” Esbenshade said. “I think most people don’t do that. She’ll usually send me pictures around Easter time and say, ‘My poinsettias still look good.’ ”

No matter how long you plan to keep your poinsettias, they’re vibrant and abundant at Royer’s now through Christmas.

Royer’s presents more than 4,000 cards and coloring pages to Red Cross’ ‘Holidays for Heroes’

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Royer’s Flowers today presented the American Red Cross with more than 4,000 holiday cards and coloring pages for area military veterans.

Royer’s collected the cards and coloring pages at each of its stores from Nov. 11-Dec. 4 as part of its annual participation in the Red Cross’ “Holidays for Heroes” program. The items will be delivered to veterans living in long-term care facilities throughout the region.

Thank you for donating hundreds of cards and coloring pages to ‘Holidays for Heroes’

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Thanks to your generosity, Royer’s has collected hundreds of holiday cards and coloring pages for the American Red Cross’ “Holidays for Heroes” program.

We presented three bags full of the items, which will be distributed to active military and veterans at military installations, VFWs, American Legions, the Lebanon VA and retirement homes in 22 counties in central Pennsylvania.

Royer’s invited customers to drop off the items at any of our stores from Nov. 11-Dec. 4.

The Red Cross (redcross.org/centralpa) prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors. Last year in central Pennsylvania, the Red Cross assisted more than 2,100 people affected by nearly 750 local disasters.

We’re offering a holiday wreath-decorating class Nov. 16 and 18 in seven stores

Do-it-yourself is a whole lot easier when you start with some knowhow.

If attempts at wreath decorating have had you going in circles, or if you haven’t tried for lack of confidence or opportunity, then Royer’s is here to help.

Royer’s is hosting a holiday wreath-decorating class in seven stores Nov. 16 and 18.

Participants will learn how to make bows, set a festive table, and care for poinsettias. Of course, Royer’s staff will be available to answer questions about holiday decorating.

The cost for the 90-minute class is $50 per person and includes a fresh wreath, bows and decorations.

Participants will receive a 15 percent discount on any in-store Christmas purchase that evening.

Each class is limited to 10 people, so reserve a spot by calling your nearest store:

6:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 16

  • Lebanon, 810 S. 12th St.; 717-273-2683
  • Wernersville, 366 E. Penn Ave.; 610-678-7370
  • Lancaster West, 201 Rohrerstown Road; 717-397-0376
  • West York, 805 Loucks Road; 717-854-7733

5:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 18

  • Chambersburg, 7 St. Paul Drive; 717-263-1313
  • Camp Hill, 3015 Gettysburg Road; 717-730-4090
  • Carlisle, 100 York Road; 717-241-6100

Oh, Atlanta, we hear you calling

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We don’t procrastinate when it comes to holiday shopping. In fact, no sooner is one Christmas in the rearview mirror than we start planning for the next one.

It’s not that we’re eager for the passage of time. Rather, we’re beckoned by AmericasMart in Atlanta, which describes itself as the nation’s leading gift, home furnishings and area rug wholesale marketplace.

In Atlanta, we might purchase containers bearing a Christmas decoration, or snowflake or snowman stick-ins to complement an arrangement. We source Christmas décor at AmericasMart but also gifts that customers will give at the holidays, such as a picture frame.

A half-dozen Royer’s representatives visit AmericasMart’s three-building, 7 million-square-foot complex every January, buying gifts and arrangement accents for the next Christmas season, and again in July, when the focus will be on the next spring.

Focus on larger gifts

Jenni Eberly, Royer’s market manager, has made six trips to Atlanta, so she’s a veteran now. But as a first-time visitor, she found the experience daunting.

“It’s overwhelming,” she said, “looking at all that merchandise set out in the displays. Because then you have to take these huge displays and then pick out what you’re going to buy.”

As vast as AmericasMart is, Royer’s spends most of its time on five floral and holiday floors. In July, the group arrived in Atlanta on a Wednesday and worked through Friday. The pace is constant, and even lunch and dinner conversation turns to what each of them has seen from vendors.

Geoff Royer, whose great-grandparents started Royer’s, coordinates the Atlanta trips. He sets up meetings with specific vendors. He also arms each member of the Royer’s delegation with a folder that identifies, by holiday, items on their shopping list.

The needs range from broad to specific. In January, some of the focus was on larger gifts, such as clocks, afghans and pillows that are relatively new for Royer’s. In July, one of the goals was to find new versions of a heart stick-in and accent ribbon to give a new look to an existing arrangement.

Erica Bixby, Royer’s store manager in Lebanon, has been to Atlanta three times. With experience, she has learned to think beyond the initial appeal of new products to identify how they will work in Royer’s stores.

How will they complement other items, and will they work given the price at which they will have to sell, including once freight costs are factored in?

Something might look nice, Erica suggested, “but you can’t really sell it for $50.”

Moments of inspiration

Technology has made it easier to document the trips. Photos taken with a tablet or smart phone are invaluable for jogging memories. After all, Christmas giftware purchased in January won’t arrive until summer or fall.

Photos also capture moments of inspiration.

“I have a bunch of things that I liked for silks,” Erica said, with an eye toward Royer’s crafting similar arrangements in-house rather than buying them already made.

“Or I take pictures of displays that I’d like to duplicate in the stores,” Jenni added.

On her phone, Jenni pulled up a photo showing how one vendor used eye hooks and ropes to display pillows.

“It’s up, it’s still in the display, but it’s out of the way,” Jenni said, noting that pillows are vulnerable in a flower shop, where the need to water plants is constant.

One week after returning from the July trip, Erica and Jenni were in Royer’s central design department in Lebanon. Looking around them, at tables filled with arrangements being created or revamped for fall debuts, they estimated that 30 percent of the items were from Atlanta.

“That container, that container, that container,” Jenni said, pointing at specific arrangements. “That vase. Those deer [figures]. Those are all things that we picked up in January.”

News media visits Royer’s version of Santa’s workshop

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We spread holiday cheer. We have a busy workshop. We deliver to peoples’ homes.

Royer’s has more than a little in common with Santa, and we like to show off our version of the North Pole. That’s why we have a standing offer for the news media to visit our central design department in Lebanon and our stores to capture a flavor of the season.

LEBANON DAILY NEWS
On Dec. 7, we welcomed the Lebanon Daily News to our Lebanon complex. The resulting video, set to a jaunty tune, shows how we decorate our Tartan Poinsettia:

69 NEWS BERKS EDITION
Within hours of the Daily News visiting, so, too, did WFMZ-TV/Channel 69 from Berks County. The TV station toured central design and interviewed our store managers in Lebanon, Erica Bixby (photo, top), and Reading, Amy Michalski, for their takes on the busy holiday season.

Poinsettia business ‘poppin” for local flower shops

The making of our Tartan Poinsettia

Inside our version of Santa’s workshop, the talented employees of Royer’s are handcrafting thousands of holiday arrangements in our central design department.

Here’s a glimpse into the making of just one version: Our Tartan Poinsettia, featuring five-plus blooms and measuring 16 to 18 inches in height.

We’d like to make one especially for you. It’s as easy as clicking here to place your order.

New Christmas decorations are on the march to our stores

We’ll have a fresh look this holiday season as we introduce a variety of new store decorations, from candles and gift-wrapped packages to ornamental stars and toy soldiers standing 8 feet or more.

They’ll be unveiled publicly in early November, but we thought you might enjoy a sneak peek.

 

‘One Tank Trip’ takes 69 News viewers behind the scenes to show how Royer’s prepares for the holidays

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What was an Allentown-based TV news station that has a Berks County edition doing at Royer’s corporate complex in Lebanon?

Seeing how merry is made, that’s what.

WFMZ-TV’s 69 News sent reporter Karin Mallett and photographer Patrick Manwiller to Royer’s as part of the station’s weekly “One Tank Trip” series.

Royer’s has three Berks County stores, in Reading, Shillington and Wernersville.

Tom Royer, one of Royer’s third-generation family owners, showed his guests the Lebanon operations, which include the company’s flagship store, distribution center, greenhouses, and central design department.

“Like Santa’s workshop,” Mallett said in her story’s introduction, describing central design, “but in lieu of toys, flowers. Lots of them. About 20,000 poinsettias will go out for the holiday.”

You can view the story here:

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