The Plant That Grows In Trees
A Native American Legend
The mistletoe is a strange little plant. It does not live on the ground with other plants, but always is found growing up in the limbs of trees by itself. Only the birds can reach the little white berries which appear both in summer and winter. That is why the mistletoe plant is found only in trees. And a bird once put it there because it had pity on the mistletoe.
There was a time when the mistletoe plant did grow on the ground as a small bushy plant. One day when it was growing on the ground a bird called by Indians the thunder bird, which they thought caused the thunder, lit on the mistletoe. The thunder bird was hungry because it could find no berries on other plants. But it found berries on the mistletoe and began to eat them. At last, when the bird had eaten all it wanted of the little waxy white berries, it thanked the bush.
"I am glad you liked my berries," said the mistletoe. "I shall not be here long because I shall soon die." Its leaves were drooping as if it were very tired.
The thunder bird opened its red beak and asked, "Why must you die, little plant?"
"Because I am green the year around," said the mistletoe. "My berries grow in winter when the other berries are gone. Many animals feed on me. They break off my brittle branches when they chew me. I shall not live long."
Then the thunder bird took pity on the mistletoe because the bird had liked the little berries. "I shall take you from the ground and put you where the animals that walk on the earth cannot find you any more," said the bird.
The thunder bird took the plant in its strong beak and flew up to the top of a mesquite tree. It fastened the roots of the mistletoe into the fork of a limb. Then the bird flew down to the ground and brought back some earth on its beak and packed the earth around the roots of the plant.
"Now, little Mistletoe," said the bird, "you will grow up here in this tree, and the animals will not get your berries."
"Yes, I will grow but when I die my seeds will fall to the ground and they will suffer as I did," said the mistletoe.
The thunder bird laughed and answered: "Oh, but I will see to that." The bird then wiped his long bill, to which stuck some of the berries of the mistletoe, on a limb. "See?" said the bird. "The berries stick on the limb. They will grow there, like you. And whenever other birds eat your berries they will wipe their bills as I do and the seeds of the mistletoe will continue to grow forever and ever."
And that is why the mistletoe keeps growing in the trees.
Sources And Further Reading
Sacred Texts When the Storm God Rides Tejas and Other Indian Legends by Florence Stratton collected by Bessie M. Reid