Popular Christmas Trees

Living Christmas trees for sale in local garden centre. © Karen Andrews

Sustainability and Plastic Awareness

The sustainability of Christmas trees is debated every year. Change is in the air in 2018. Artificial trees are falling out of favour. There is a growing aversion to anything plastic and artificial in the interests of the environment and wildlife. David Attenborough’s 2018 Blue Planet II series horrified and galvanised the nation about plastic in our oceans. The British public are rethinking their attitude to Christmas trees too. 

Recycling Schemes

Local councils now make it easier to dispose of real Christmas trees responsibly with special recycling schemes after the festive period. There is also a range of living as opposed to cut Christmas trees sold in pots. Potted trees offer buyers the option of planting their Christmas tree out in the New Year, if they have a suitable garden area.

Small, potted Blue Sauce in garden centre
Living, Blue Spruce (Picea pungens) in a pot clearly labelled as sourced in UK, but wrapped in plastic
© Karen Andrews

The importance of safeguarding plant health, and especially the health of Britain’s trees, has also moved up the environmental agenda this year. The Christmas trees in the local garden centre were all identifiably sourced from the United Kingdom. British Christmas tree growers have their own association, the BCTGA, with a code of practice for members. Christmas trees are treated like any other sustainable crop, but are raised with consideration for biosecurity, wildlife and forestry workers’ welfare.

Nordmann Fir Christmas tree standing in garden centre
Medium-sized, cut Nordmann Fir in local garden centre. © Karen Andrews

Britain’s Best Christmas Tree

The final change is the tree of choice. The Nordmann Fir has replaced the traditional Norway Spruce in Britain’s hearts. Why? Primarily because it is better at holding on to its needles in the nation’s centrally-heated homes. And, it is a neat-looking tree with a fine display of glossy, green needles and a fresh scent.

Close-up of end of branches of Nordmann Fir showing needles
The neat needles that make Nordmann Fir, Abies nordmannianna, popular with the British public
© Karen Andrews

Needle Comparison

The following photograph shows the difference between the needles of the three main tree choices. 

Comparison of needles on 3 different Christmas tree options
Needle comparison:
Fraser Fir, Abies fraseri (left);
Nordmann Fir, Abies nordmanniana with its neat, flattened appearance (centre);
Norway Spruce, Picea abies, already dropping its needles even before leaving garden centre (right).
© Karen Andrews

Norway Spruce, Picea abies

The Norway Spruce has a sparser display of needles. The tree is more bare by comparison with the Nordmann Fir, especially at the top. A tendency to drop its needles constantly during the Christmas period has made it fall out of favour with the British. Unfortunately the needles seemed to drop in the open air of the garden centre, even before reaching a buyer’s centrally-heated home. The Norway Spruce is regularly planted out as an ornamental in gardens, but rarely naturalises and seldom thrives here.

Fraser Fir, Abies fraseri

The Fraser Fir is a native tree in the Appalachian Mountains of the south-eastern United States. It is named after the notable Scottish botanist, John Fraser (1750-1811). He was commissioned as a plant collector by the Russian royal family. He had many botanical adventures that included shipwreck, pirates, broken ribs after falling from a horse and financial difficulties. Fraser’s extensive herbarium collection went to the Linnean Society upon his death.

The fir named after John Fraser has a neat display of needles that are paler in colour than those of the Nordmann Fir. It only seemed to be available as a cut tree and was more expensive. The available size range seemed more limited. The fragrance is described by different sources as balsam- or turpentine-scented. 

Needles of the Fraser Fir, Abies fraseri. © Karen Andrews

Fraser Fir and Insect Infestations

The Fraser Fir is severely affected in the United States by Balsam woolly adelgids (Adelges piceae). This invasive species was introduced to America from Europe in 1900. Climate change, Christmas tree cutting combined with the insect infestations are placing the Fraser Fir at risk in the United States. Mortality rates range from 80-99% according to different sources.

Nordmann Fir, Abies nordmanniana

The Nordmann Fir is named after Alexander von Nordmann (1803-66), a Finnish biologist and professor. He left extensive written contributions on parasitology, palaeontology, zoology and botany. He also spoke Russian, German, French and Swedish, as well as writing in Latin. His name is occasionally seen with only one ‘n’ at the end in Britain.

Origin and Sustainable Planting

The Nordmann Fir is also known as the Caucasian Fir. It originates from North Turkey and the Caucasus Mountains. It is Europe’s tallest tree and can grow up to 70 metres in height. It has been planted as a way to try and mitigate climate change.  It grows rapidly after the first few years making it a good, sustainable choice for Christmas trees. Researchers have also investigated the fir’s potential to remove toxic metals from the soil, with particular focus on cadmium.

The Reliable Needle Choice

Collins Tree Guide (2006) describes the Nordmann Fir as an upmarket Christmas tree. It also notes that the needles can last for up to 25 years and so do not fall in the 12-day Christmas period. Possibly just what the British public want after falling out of love with both the traditional Norway Spruce and artificial Christmas trees?

Top Tree to Top of the Tree

That’s the Christmas tree sorted. Now you have to work out the decorations, including what to put on top of your tree.

Angel with lights on top of Christmas tree
Angel with lights on top of Christmas tree. © Karen Andrews

Editor’s Note

Some may not have the budget for a new, living tree every year. They already have an artificial tree stored away after every Christmas. This tree will ultimately end up in a council landfill site. Live Christmas trees are frequently wrapped in plastic. If this Christmas is not the year for dramatic change, there is nonetheless a change in thinking and a desire to move away from the artificial and plastic. Wreath-making seems to be on the increase.

Copyright Note

Karen does not seek or receive any commercial interest or advantage from this blog. She is not promoting any business venture. She simply loves to share fascinating facts about plants. These pages illustrate her love of plants, botany, biodiversity, gardens and creative expression. There is always so much to learn about plant diversity. This blog is designed as a showcase for photography, commentary on plants and wildlife, gardens and other places visited, horticulture and related topics. Viewpoints are her own, not those of her employer.

© Karen Andrews 2018 onwards. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Andrews and BotanyKaren.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

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