The holly, the mistletoe, and the pollinators: an update on an old story


Holly and mistletoe are two of Europe and Scandinavia’s most iconic plants, steeped in folklore and cultural significance, and redolent of the dark days of mid-winter and its festivities.  Last year, together with my colleagues Jim Rouquette and Tom Breeze, I published a study of the value that pollinators add to the wholesale auction prices of these two plants using data from the UK’s largest holly and mistletoe auction that has been held in the town of Tenbury Wells for 160 years.

Holly and mistletoe are excellent subjects for a study of the added value that pollinators bring to a crop as they are 100% reliant on pollination by a range of wild bees, flies and other insects.  This is because both species are dioecious with separate sex plants, therefore any berries produced on a female plant must be due to the activities of pollinators.

Here’s a link to last year’s blog post about that paper and here’s the reference for the paper itself, with a link to the journal where you can download it for free:

Ollerton, J., Rouquette, J.R. & Breeze, T.D. (2016) Insect pollinators boost the market price of culturally important crops: holly, mistletoe and the spirit of Christmas. Journal of Pollination Ecology 19: 93-97

The data set in that paper only developed the story up to 2015 as the 2016 auctions took place too late to include within our analyses.  However I’ve collected the auction reports for 2016 and 2017 and added them to the data set.  The results are graphed below*.

The auction price for holly with berries is rather volatile, but on average over this time period, berried holly has twice the commercial value of holly without berries.  Indeed in the last auction of 2017, holly without berries failed to sell, hence the value of £0.00.  The very wintry weather on the auction day reduced the number of buyers, but nonetheless, to have no one bidding for the unberried holly was unprecedented.

Holly auction prices plot

The pattern for mistletoe is rather similar, but in this case the value of berried material is less volatile than that of holly, and the average value is around three times greater than for auction lots of unberried plants.

Mistletoe auction plot

This data set offers a unique insight into the value of pollinators for two culturally important crops (all other such studies have focused on food or, rarely, fibre crops).  I’ll continue to archive the auction reports and to update these analyses every few years in the run up to Christmas.  If anyone is interested in accessing the data, please drop me a line.

If you want to learn more about the botany of different types of mistletoe follow this link to Mike Fay’s blog post on the Kew website.

Also worth checking out is Manu Saunders’ recent piece highlighting some old Christmas-themed blog posts.

Yesterday was my last day in the office, I’m now officially on leave and looking forward to a restful Christmas and New Year break.  Season’s greetings to all of my readers and thank you for your continued support and interest in biodiversity!



*There are three auctions each year and therefore three data points per annum, except for 2016 when only two auction reports were produced.

7 thoughts on “The holly, the mistletoe, and the pollinators: an update on an old story

  1. jeffollerton Post author

    Hi Steve – thanks for the comment, some interesting questions there! I suspect that most of the Jade Plants in cultivation are clones of a single, early collection, and that the plant is self-incompatible. So it can’t be fertilised by its own pollen, as you demonstrated. As far as I know this plant’s pollination ecology has never been studied but if I had to hazard a guess I’d say that it’s pollinated by a range of small bees, flies, etc. in the wild, like many of these open-flowered Crassulaceae. Aeonium spp. in the Canary Islands are likewise visited by a range of insects.

    As for the 72 degrees question, I think that this is just a property symmetrical division of the flower primordia: any radially symmetrical flower that has five petals is going to do the same thing 🙂

    I couldn’t see any images, by the way.

    Have a great Christmas!

    1. spamletblog

      Thanks Jim,

      Still plenty of flowers!

      I ‘posted’ just by replying to the email. As you can see: WordPress has made a mess of it. And also plastered my email address openly for all the bots to pick up. :/ If you can tidy it up at your end, I’d appreciate it, as I can’t see any options for either editing it, or posting the pictures–not on this Blackberry browser at any rate. :/

      Hope your Christmas is going well.

      (y) (y)

      1. spamletblog

        Probably best to.I think it’s because I used to have an earlier WP account that had to be changed to a new format for some reason (something about vs. com, I think), but they didn’t manage to transfer my old comments and follows over to the new one, and remove it, so now when I post directly on a site it uses my old pages, and when I reply to an email it tries to use the new pages, which I don’t use because my history is on the old one.I tried to sort this out with WP for some time, but it’s still stuck between the old and the new. :/Maybe I’ll have another go at their IT people in the New Year…All the best.Steve From: Jeff Ollerton’s Biodiversity BlogSent: Wednesday, 27 December 2017 08:54To: steve.a.hawkins@ntlworld.comReply To: Jeff Ollerton’s Biodiversity BlogSubject: [New comment] The holly, the mistletoe, and the pollinators: an update on an old story

        a:hover { color: red; } a { text-decoration: none; color: #0088cc; }

        a.primaryactionlink:link, a.primaryactionlink:visited { background-color: #2585B2; color: #fff; } a.primaryactionlink:hover, a.primaryactionlink:active { background-color: #11729E !important; color: #fff !important; }

        /* @media only screen and (max-device-width: 480px) { .post { min-width: 700px !important; } } */ jeffollerton commented: “There doesn’t seem to be a way to edit the comment other than deleting it. Do you want me to do that?”

  2. Pingback: Climate change at Christmas: did the hot, dry summer of 2018 cause the record-breaking prices of holly and mistletoe? | Jeff Ollerton's Biodiversity Blog

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