Oh Tannenbaum: A Forestry Friday for Christmas Trees

December 8, 2017

Celebrators of Christmas argue about their traditions: white lights versus colored lights; angel versus star topper and wrapped versus bagged presents. However, almost everyone agrees: Christmas trees, real or fake, are a big deal. The subject of songs, books and movies, Christmas trees take the spotlight this Forestry Friday.

Christmas Tree Market

In the United States alone, nearly 350 million Christmas trees are growing on US tree farms. They range in maturity, height and species. The oldest planted trees may be 15 years old, although naturally occurring trees may be older. The most popular tree varieties are fir but people also buy pine, spruce, cypress and cedar trees.

The market value of real Christmas trees was approximately two billion dollars in 2016. Although trees are grown in 45 states, the top five producers are Oregon, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Over 100,000 people work in this agricultural sector. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, 25-30 million trees are sold per a year, which includes agritourism “cut your own” experiences.

Unfortunately, there is a gap in the United States between supply and demand. The current Christmas tree shortage – which will be felt most heavily next year – stems from the receding Christmas markets after the 2008 Financial Crisis. Tree prices and demand went down, so farmers closed for business. Although three seedlings, on average, are usually planted for every purchased Christmas tree, that was not in this case.

Christmas Tree Forestry

As an environmental concern and like other tree farming initiatives, real Christmas tree farms can be net positives. In 2012, 309,365 acres of land were used for tree farming. Much of this land contains soil that does not support other crops. Christmas trees attract clover, which makes the soil nitrogen rich, as well as prevent erosion, create wildlife refuges and protect water resources. They also absorb carbon, which is the greatest factor in harmful climate change.

Although it may seem wasteful to cut down the millions of trees needed for the holidays, real Christmas trees can be ecofriendly. Recyclable and reusable, these trees can be mulched, turned into bird or fish feeders, shred for nature trail paths and used for sand erosion barriers. They also have a less negative impact than fake trees, which must be kept and used for 20 years to offset the energy that goes into making them. Real Christmas trees are considered renewable resources unlike the manmade materials used in fake trees.

Some individuals are concerned about pesticide usage in tree farming. Strides are being taken to use chemical mowing instead of eradication. More and more farms are also pursuing organic farming. Farmers also hope to eventually reach carbon neutral harvesting practices.

Christmas Trees and Technology

While it’s up to the consumer to decide what kind of Christmas tree to buy, there are perks to both kinds of trees for the technology geeks and whizzes of the world.

As early as 2013, fake Christmas trees became IoT Christmas trees. Moore’s Cloud is a famous early adopter of the technology. Ikea’s AR app Ikea Place, lets users visualize an AR Christmas tree in their home before they have a mess of pine needles to clean up.

In 7-10 years, Dalhousie University’s Christmas Tree Research Center hopes to be selling SMART trees, which will last three months at a time due to genetic modification and other agritech innovations.

While trees are beautiful and fun to decorate, it’s likely there are people who don’t like to fuss with bringing in any tree, fake or real. For those types, there’s a holographic tree, and just light a pine scented candle to get an extra cozy scent. While they’re at it, they may want to turn up the thermostat and project a video of a fire on the wall.