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.
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.
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.