There’s nothing quite like the scent of fresh cut Christmas trees to conjure up images of Christmas past. But how many times have we been disappointed when we get the tree home and discover that its branches aren’t strong enough for our largest holiday ornaments or that it doesn’t produce the scent we expected, if any at all?
Most people refer to any Christmas tree as a pine tree, but they actually may be firs or pines, two distinctly different species with different characteristics, as you’ll see in the list below. Firs typically grow in that tall, triangular appearance we love in our Christmas trees and pines grow in a more wide open appearance. Also, the foliage of fir trees tends to be softer than that of pines, but pines generally have stronger branches, more capable of holding large ornaments. The colors of either species vary from green, to yellow-green, to blue-green, to silvery in appearance, with some delivering lots of that beautiful scent, and some little at all.
There’s no right or wrong choice, as all of these trees are quite beautiful. But armed with some knowledge about the characteristics of the different species, you can make a better choice of which tree to cut at the Christmas tree farm. The best environmental choice is to buy a potted Christmas pine or fir at a garden center and plant the tree next spring. But if you don’t have the space, a fresh cut Christmas tree from a tree farm is the next best option.
The most popular types of Christmas trees and their unique features (click on any image for a larger version)
Scotch Pine: Native to Europe and eastern Asia, this is one of the most popular Christmas trees. Its stiff needles, green to blue-green in color, are one to three inches long and attached to branches in groups of two. A number of different varieties of Scotch pine are grown, so some variation may be found in needle length and color. Scotch Pine has an open appearance, strong branches to hold lots of ornaments, and it holds needles longer than any other Christmas tree species, even when dry.
Eastern White Pine: Native to eastern North America, this is the most popular Christmas tree after Scotch Pine. Needles are 2-5 inches long, yellow-green to blue-green in color, soft and flexible. Eastern White Pine has a more delicate look compared to other pines. Two varieties are sold, which have distinctly different appearances: those grown in the northeastern U.S. have shorter, yellow-green to green needles, while those from Southern Appalachia have longer, blue-green needles with a droopy appearance. Eastern White Pine has slender, flexible branches which can support fewer ornaments, but needle retention is excellent.
Blue Spruce, a.k.a. Colorado Spruce, Colorado Blue Spruce: Native to high elevations in the western U.S., Blue Spruce needles are green, blue-green, or silvery-white, 3/4 – 1-1/4 inch long, sharply pointed and stiff. The naturally symmetrical form of this tree makes for a shapely Christmas tree with few defects. Blue Spruce’s branches are stiff and strong and will support many and heavy ornaments. Keep the tree stand full of water, because if it goes dry for even a short period, lots of needles will drop.
Fraser Fir, native to the high elevations of the Appalachians, has seen its popularity increase of late. It’s a beautiful, fragrant, dark-green tree with 1/2 to 1 inch long needles that feel very soft. Fraser Fir tends to be very symmetrical, has strong branches to support lots of decorations, holds its needles very well and has that beautiful scent which few other pines have – the balsam aroma we associate with Christmas.
Douglas Fir, native to the mountains of the western U.S., has been the most popular Christmas tree in that part of the country for about 100 years, and is widely popular elsewhere as well. Its needles are 3/4 to 1-1/4 inch long, soft, and green to blue-green. Douglas Firs are naturally very symmetrical, and its needle retention is excellent.
Other Christmas trees sold throughout the U.S. include (click on links for more info): Deodora Cedar, Eastern Red Cedar, Leyland Cypress (great for those with allergies to the other trees), Grand Fir (needles have a citrus smell), Noble Fir, Nordmann Fir, White Fir , Afghan Pine, Austrian Pine, Red Pine, Ponderosa Pine, Virginia Pine , Carolina Sapphire (also a citrus scent, and beautiful blue needles), Black Hills Spruce, Norway Spruce (Europe’s most popular), and White Spruce.
After the holidays, please put your Christmas tree to good use and recycle or re-purpose it in some way, because trees sent to landfills are a waste of a precious natural resource. More on that subject is in my post: What to do with your Christmas tree after the holidays.