Monday, December 12, 2011

12 Days of GREEN! Choosing a Christmas Tree

Balsam Fir
Many people choose to have a Christmas tree this month and opinions about what type of tree is best are as varied as anyone can imagine.  Many people argue over whether or not a fake tree is better than a real one...and is more sustainable because you can reuse it every year.  Well, think about where the tree comes from and how it is manufactured and that will give you insight on which is better.  The fact is that most real trees sold as Christmas trees are FARMED, just like many other crops and food sources and are planted every year.  That fake tree is most likely made of plastic using petroleum, harmful chemicals and excessive energy to produce (most likely in China) and the fake tree often releases harmful toxins into your home even years after you open the box!
Here is an interesting statement from the National Christmas Tree Association:

MYTH #4: It's better to use a fake tree because you can re-use it each year.
BUSTED: That’s a very short-sighted perspective. According to research, most fake trees are only used 6 to 9 years before they’re disposed. Even if you would use one for 20 years or more, it will eventually be thrown away and end up in a landfill. And unlike Real Trees, which are biodegradable and recyclable, fake trees are always a burden to the environment.

 
For more myths and answers about Christmas trees, go to: http://www.christmastree.org/myths.cfm

Another commonly held belief is that a live, potted tree is better... well, it's a nice thought but more often than not, these trees, even when planted promptly after the holidays, do not live because they have either been exposed to drastic temperature and humidity changes or were not properly cared for.  So is it worth it to buy a potted tree instead of cutting one down?  If you keep it outside and partially bury the pot - possibly but then you miss out on having that Christmas Tree scent in your home!
More Christmas Tree Facts from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service:
  • Real Trees are a renewable, recyclable resource. Artificial trees contain non-biodegradable plastics and possible metal toxins such as lead.
  • There are more than 4,000 local Christmas Tree recycling programs throughout the United States.
  • For every Real Christmas Tree harvested, 1 to 3 seedlings are planted the following spring. 
  • There are close to 15,000 farms growing Christmas Trees in the U.S., and over 100,000 people are employed full or part-time in the industry.
So the more GREEN option seems to be purchasing a cut tree from your local tree farm or in my case, the street corner or plant store.  But now your decision is "Which type of tree do we buy?"
The following evergreen tree species or types are sold and grown in the United States for Christmas Trees and are thought of as the best for different characteristics.

Fir Trees: Common name (Botanical name)

Balsam Fir(Abies balsamea) – Native to the northeastern United States, the Balsam Fir is named for the balsam or resin found in blisters on bark.  The needles are flat, ¾” to 1 ½” long rounded at the tip and generally last long on the branches.  The color is dark green with silvery cast.  Balsam Firs have good form and are fragrant.  Factoid: Balsam fir oil is an EPA approved nontoxic rodent repellent.


Fraser Fir
Fraser Fir – (Abies fraseri) – The combination of form, needle retention, dark blue-green color, pleasant scent and strong branches has led to Fraser fir being a most popular Christmas tree species. Fraser Fir has dark green, flattened needles with a medial groove on the upper side and two broad silvery-white bands on the lower surface and are ½ to 1 inch long. When crushed, the needles have a very pleasant woodsy scent. Factoid:  Named for the Scotish botanist, John Fraser, who explored the southern Appalachians in the late 1700’s.



Needles of White Fir


White Fir or Concolor Fir(Abies concolor) – Commonly found in the western/northwestern US, the White Fir has  blue-green needles are ½ to ½ inches long.  They have a    nice shape, good citrus-like aroma and good needle retention. White Fir is named for its light-colored bark and the silvery or "glaucous"  color of its needles. Factoid:  In nature the White Fir can live to 350 years.

Douglas Fir branches
Douglas Fir(Pseudotsuga menziesii) – Although not actually a fir, the Douglas Fir is one of the most popular trees for Christmas Trees. They are softer with  1” to 1 ½” flat needles and have one of the best aromas among Christmas trees when crushed. Douglas fir has a good conical shape (and often are sheared on the farm to maintain the "perfect" shape).  Named after David Douglas who studied the tree in the 1800’s;  can live for a thousand years. It is also the state tree of Oregon.


Pine Trees - Common name (Botanical name):

White Pine
White Pine(Pinus strobus) – soft, blue-green needles, 2 to 5 inches long in bundles of five; retains needles throughout the holiday season; very full appearance; little or no fragrance; less allergic reactions as compared to more fragrant trees. Largest pine in Eastern United States; state tree of Michigan & Maine; slender branches will support fewer and smaller decorations as compared to Scotch pine. It’s wood is used in cabinets, interior finish and carving. Native Americans used the inner bark as food. Early colonists used the inner bark to make cough medicine.  Good choice for families prone to allergies or sensitivities to fragrances. Caveat: Branching can be too dense for large ornaments. Needles can be too slippery and soft for heavy ornaments but it's soft appearance takes on an elegant appearance simply with just white lights.


Scotch Pine branches
Scotch Pine(Pinus sylvestris) – Another common Christmas tree, the Scotch Pine is native to Europe and Asia and is predominant in Scotland. It is readily identified by its combination of fairly short, blue-green leaves and orange-red bark.  It has stiff branches, stiff, dark green needles in pairs one inch long and holds needles for four weeks - needles will stay on even when dry which makes it very popular for indoor Christmas trees. It has open appearance and more room for ornaments and also keeps aroma throughout the season. The Scotch Pine was introduced into United States by European settlers. Factoid: Pinus sylvestris is the only pine native to northern England and is the National Tree of Scotland.

Spruce Trees - Common name (Botanical name):

White Spruce branches
White (or Canadian) Spruce – (Picea glauca) – Leaves (needles) are needle-shaped, and are often somewhat crowded on the upper half of the branchlets. Needles are usually 1/2 to 3/4 inch long, blunt at the tip and green to bluish-green in color.  Crushed needles have an unpleasant odor but have good needle retention. As a Christmas tree, white spruce has excellent foliage color, short stiff needles and a good natural shape. Needle retention is better than some of other spruce species.  Factoid: State tree of South Dakota.  


Blue Spruce branches
Blue Spruce(Picea pungens) – Color is dark green to powdery blue with very stiff needles, ¾” to 1 ½” long. The needles are 4-sided and have a very sharp point on the end. It is this point which gives the species its name "pungens", from the Latin word for sharp as in puncture wound. Needles are generally dull bluish-gray to silvery blue and emit a resinous odor when crushed; good form; will drop needles in a warm room; symmetrical; but is best among species for needle retention; branches are stiff and will support many heavy decorations. Factoid: State tree of Utah & Colorado. Can live in nature 600-800 years.

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