Christmas Trees

Christmas Trees

Importance to Oregon

Oregon is the number one producer of Christmas trees in the nation. In 2015, it was a 84.5 million dollar industry and almost five million trees were sold. The top five counties for production are Clackamas, Marion, Polk, Benton, and Linn.

History of Christmas Trees

The first decorated Christmas tree can be traced back to 1510 in Riga, Latvia. However, evergreen trees had been used for thousands of years to celebrate winter festivals. Small candles were added in the 17th century and electric lights were first mass-produced in 1890. Live Christmas trees have been commercially sold in the US since 1850.  The White House has decorated Christmas trees annually since 1889.

Today, over 30 million Christmas trees are harvested and sold around the world. The top producing states are Oregon, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Washington, New York and Virginia.

Species

The top selling species of Christmas trees is Oregon are Douglas fir, Noble fir, Grand fir and Nordmann fir. Other species sold include Fraser fir, Balsam fir, and pine trees.

Douglas fir

These soft needles are dark green – blue green in color and are approximately 1 – 1 ½ inch in length. The Douglas fir needles radiate in all directions from the branch. When crushed, these needles have a sweet fragrance. However, it is not a true fir tree because the cones do disperse to spread seeds. Once planted on a farm, it takes between 7-10 years to fully mature and be ready for market.

Noble fir

The Noble fir has been the standard in Christmas trees because it is a beautiful tree, with stiff branches and stays alive for a long period of time after it has been cut. The needles are roughly 4-sided (similar to spruce), over 1 inch long, bluish-green but appearing silver because of 2 white rows of stoma on the underside and 1-2 rows on the upper surface. The needles are generally twisted upward so that the lower surface of branches are exposed. In addition to Christmas trees, Noble firs are also used to make wreaths, garland, and other Christmas decorations. They are ready for market six to ten years after they have been planted.

Grand fir

Grand firs are easily distinguishable because their needles are displayed in to distinct rows. They are usually horizontally spread so that both the upper and lower sides of the branches are clearly visible. The needles are 1 to 1 1/2 inches long with glossy dark green tops and two highly visible white lines of stomata on the undersides. It is also known for its strong fragrance. The tree will be ready for Christmas between eight and ten years after the seedling is planted.

Nordmann fir

A key method for distinguishing this species from other true firs is the presence of blunt or notched tips at the ends of the needles. Unlike other firs, Nordmann Fir needles lack any significant scent. The needles are directed forward on the ends of the branches; they are between 1 inch to 1.5 inches, and the underside has two white stomatal bands. The best place to find these trees are at a U-cut Christmas tree farm.

Douglas fir

Noble fir

Grand fir

Nordmann fir

Life Cycle

Christmas trees start out as seeds that come from cones off of mature trees. The seeds are planted at a nursery, and are normally there for three years before the Christmas tree farm even gets the seedlings, or very young trees! The seedlings are planted in neat rows in the ground during the spring, so the roots have plenty of time to establish before it freezes over in the fall or winter. For the next few years, the trees continue to grow. During this time they may be sheared, meaning branches are trimmed. This is done to shape the tree and make it grow in the right direction so a full, beautiful tree will be ready for harvest.

Harvesting

Christmas trees are harvested between six and ten years after they are planted, depending on the species of tree. Harvest normally beings during the first week of November.

Trees can be harvested in a variety of ways. Trees that are being shipped far away are normally cut down with a chainsaw and wrapped to protect the limbs. Some large farms in Oregon use helicopters to transfer the cut trees from where they were growing to the trucks to be shipped off. Check out a cool video below to see a helicopter harvesting!

Another way to harvest trees are U-Cut tree farms. The farmers grow the trees, and then people come out and select the one the want while it is still growing in the ground! The tree is cut down right then and there, and goes home with the new owners of a fresh Christmas tree.

Pests and Diseases

Like any other living thing, Christmas trees are susceptible to pests, diseases, and damage caused by the environment. All of these factors can damage the tree and make it not salable, or it can even cause the tree to die. Farmers are very proactive in protecting their trees in a variety of ways. For instance, insecticides can be sprayed to kill the bugs that can destroy the tree. Farmers can also rotate which species of trees are planted to help control and destroy some of the different types of rot that some trees get and other don’t. The trees can also be harmed when they are being pruned or harvested, so extra care is taken not to cause unnecessary damage.

Vocabulary Terms

Insecticides: A substance used for killing insects
Seedlings: A young plant that is raised from a seed
Sheared: When the tree branches are cut to keep the tree healthy and looking good
Stoma: A very small opening on the underside of leaves or needles, where gases like carbon dioxide and oxygen enter and leave the tree
U-Cut: A style of harvesting where normal people go out to the farm, select and cut down their own tree