A weekly blog for all things conservation
The Christmas Tree
By: Nathan Dewing, Agricultural Team Leader
What does a tree have to do with Christmas? A lot, but not so much with what has become known as the Christmas tree. It is simply a beloved Christmas tradition.
It didn’t begin that way in the United States. 16th century German Christians were the first known to bring decorated trees inside. 19th century Americans didn’t think much of the idea, considering them an offensive pagan symbol interfering with a sacred day. 100 years later, the Christmas tree was growing in popularity, and today it is central to many a home’s Christmas decorations.
Until around 1950, most Christmas trees grew in the forest. Since then, most are grown on cultivated tree farms. 2017 USDA statistics report 15,008 farms producing 15.1 million trees valued at $377 million. Pennsylvania ranks 4th in the nation behind Oregon, North Carolina, and Michigan, producing 1,056,000 trees in 2019. 60-70 million seedlings are planted nation-wide on 255,000 acres. The average Christmas tree will be 9 years old when it is cut.
The most popular Christmas tree species are the firs of Frasier, Noble, Douglas, and Balsam along with Scotch pine, Balsam fir being the only PA native on that list. The other native PA tree often used indoors is the White pine. Farmers plant approximately 2,000 trees per acre expecting 50% - 75% survival.
Artificial trees have gained popularity, mainly for convenience. Some errantly think that using an artificial tree is better for the environment, but most of the plastic and metal in artificial trees comes China where environmental standards are different. Today you will find environmental groups endorsing natural trees as the eco-friendly alternative.
The National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA) reports that in 2019, 26.2 million Christmas trees were purchased at a median price of $76.87. They report that 32% were purchased at a choose-and-cut farm, 24% at chain stores, 17% at retail lots, 13% at garden centers, 7% from non-profit groups and 6% on-line.
People often consider how to best recycle Christmas trees following their month of glory. The options are numerous.
Never send that tree to the landfill. Christmas trees are biodegradable and very beneficial organic matter for soil. The simplest might be to obtain permission to drop the tree in a nearby forest. Wildlife and eventually soil organisms will make great use of it. Interestingly, community tree recycling programs will pick up trees for production of wood chips to be used for fuel or mulch. Besides these, spent trees have a variety of creative uses including bird feeders, fish habitat, soil erosion control, mulch, and cannon fodder, to name a few. The NCTA lists some good suggestions and they also offer a planning guide for communities starting recycling programs.
The Bradford County Conservation District’s annual Seedling sale is soon to begin. Species available for the 2021 seedling sale include Eastern white pine, Colorado blue spruce, Black locust, Swamp white oak, Sugar maple, American elderberry, Strawberries, Wildflower seed mix, and food plot mix. Some of these seedlings are undoubted destined for living rooms far and wide. The district’s pull- behind tree planter is all turned up and ready for use by interested landowners come spring.
I hope you benefit this Christmas from a delightfully lit tree. See if you can find the direct links between Christmas and a tree. This could be your best Christmas ever.
The Bradford County Conservation District is committed to helping people manage resources wisely. You can visit the Bradford County Conservation District at 200 Lake Rd in Wysox across from the Wysox Fire Hall. Contact us at (570) 485-3144 or visit our web page at www.bccdpa.com.
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Various staff at the Bradford County Conservation District