This series of posts will highlight the plants that help you celebrate the Yuletide season.
Perhaps the most obvious of plants contributing to our Christmas festivities is the evergreen tree that occupies our living rooms during this season. Here are some interesting Christmas tree facts:*
“24.5 million farm-grown Christmas trees were purchased in the United States in 2012, with a real market value of $1.01 billion.
98 percent of all Christmas trees are grown on farms, while only 2% are cut from the wild.
In 2012, 46 million Christmas tree seedlings were planted by U.S. growers.
In 2012, 85% of the Christmas trees purchased were pre-cut, and 14% were cut-your-own.
The most popular Christmas trees are: Scotch pine, Douglas fir, noble fir, Fraser fir, balsam fir, Virginia pine and white pine.
There are approximately 350 million Christmas trees growing on more than 15,000 U.S. Christmas tree farms.
Oregon, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Washington, New York, and Virginia are the top Christmas tree producing states.”
Check out this link for more information on the different types of Christmas trees.
By now, you have likely ripped open all of the presents under your Christmas tree and are enjoying its warm glow and characteristic aroma. How much have you thought about the effort and experimentation behind your evergreen? The numbers above should have given you some indication of the commercial importance of the real Christmas tree, and there are diligent scientists and farmers working hard all year long to make sure you have the best Christmas tree. You may not think about your tree until November, but Christmas tree farm workers are shearing trees in the summer to make sure they have the perfect tapered shape (No, it doesn’t just happen naturally) by the time you come along to scrutinize them.
Agricultural researchers in Oregon, Washington and North Carolina (the top Christmas tree-producing states) are dedicated to creating a better Christmas tree and solving the problems encountered by Christmas tree farmers. Scientists like Gary Chastagner (Washington State University), Chal Langren (Oregon State University) andJohn Frampton (North Carolina State University) have been using breeding and biotechnology techniques to create Christmas trees with better characteristics like bough strength, shape, needle retention (Yes, so that the needles stay on your tree and not on the floor) and disease resistance. As you might imagine, altering the genetics of Christmas trees, which take years to mature and must endure variable weather conditions, takes an enormous amount of patience. However, they are having success with non-native trees (from Europe and Asia) to identify markers for disease resistance and needle retention. The one variable that these researchers cannot control for is consumer tastes over the timescale of Christmas tree production. There will likely never be a single ‘perfect’ Christmas tree variety, but just maybe there are superior seedlings in greenhouses or research field plots that will start a new era in our Christmas tree tradition.
If you think the Grinch is the only one out to steal your Christmas tree, think again. Christmas tree growers must contend with all kinds of tree pests and pathogens that want nothing more than to destroy Christmas trees. Two major pathogens with devastating potential for farmers are the fungal pathogens Rhabdocline weirii and Phytophthora ramorum. These fungi infect trees causing discoloration of the needles, which renders them unsalable as trees. Beyond this superficial damage, the diseases progress to the point where the trees shed their needles. If too many needles are discolored and shed, the trees cannot photosynthesize enough to remain viable. A lot of the genetic research on Christmas trees mentioned above involves combatting these pathogens.
Real Christmas trees keep giving even after the decorations are removed. As many people in Louisiana may already know, Christmas trees can be recycled at the end of the season for use in wetland protection.** The trees are used to form a physical barrier to prevent erosion due to wave action along the coast. The program is a great way to get the community involved in the protection of wetlands and provides an avenue for broader public education on the impacts of losing of Louisiana’s wetlands. So, to my Louisiana resident readers, if you don’t already have plans to sink your tree under the pier at your fishing camp, recycle it on your parish’s designated pick up day. (See below for East Baton Rouge Parish info) Use this opportunity to create a New Year’s resolution to find out more about protecting Louisiana’s wetlands.
References and Links:
*Feel free to use them as ice breakers or diversions for uncomfortable or inappropriate questions asked by family, friends and co-workers.
** Christmas trees are recycled in many places beyond Louisiana. Check out this link from the USDA with info about finding a recycling program to benefit the environment near you.