Which species of Christmas tree is best for you?

Ken Johnson

Now that Thanksgiving is over, many of us will begin our annual search for the perfect Christmas tree. There are a variety of different species of evergreens sold as Christmas trees. Here is some information on some of the most commonly sold species from University of Illinois Extension’s website page, Christmas Trees & More:

  • Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) are blue to dark green in color with 1 to 1 ½ inch needles. The needles have one of the best aromas among Christmas trees when crushed. This species was named after David Douglas who studied the tree in the 1800s. The trees have a good conical shape and can live for a thousand years. Douglas fir is considered the second tallest tree species in North America, after redwood and can grow over 300 feet tall.
  • Fraser Fir (Abies fraseri) has dark green, flattened needles that are ½ to 1 inch long. These trees have good needle retention (needles don’t readily fall) and a nice scent. The trees are pyramid-shaped and have strong branches which turn upward. This species was named after a botanist, John Fraser, who explored the southern Appalachians in the late 1700s. Growing Fraser fir for Christmas trees and wreaths is a multi-million dollar business in the southern Appalachians.
  • Scots or Scotch Pine (Pinus sylvestris) are the most commonly used Christmas tree. They have stiff branches and stiff, dark green needles that are one inch long. These trees have very good needle retention often holding needles for four weeks. In fact the needles will stay on even when dry. The trees have an open appearance which can allow more room for ornaments. These trees will also keep their aroma throughout the season. European settlers introduced this species into United States.
  • White Pine (Pinus strobus) has soft, blue-green needles that are 2 to 5 inches long in bundles of five. These trees will also retain their needles throughout the holiday season. These trees typically have a very full appearance. While these trees have little or no fragrance people tend to have less allergic reactions to them as compared to more fragrant trees. Their slender branches will support fewer and smaller decorations when compared to Scotch pine. White pine is the largest pine species in United States. In addition to being used as Christmas trees, its 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.
  • Blue Spruce (Picea pungens) is dark green to powdery blue. They have very stiff needles, which are ¾ to 1 ½ inches long. They have good symmetrical form. They are among the best species for needle retention but will drop needles in a warm room. Their branches are stiff and can support many heavy decorations. These trees can live in nature 600-800 years.

For more information on Christmas trees, visit University of Illinois Extension’s website page, Christmas Trees & More, at extension.illinois.edu/trees.

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