|(Photo by Bill Wood, U-M Photo Services)|
Beneath the holiday cheer, this years tree is a white fir (Abies concolor). Native to the western United States, these trees can grow as tall as 150-feet and as old as 350.
Fir trees are very popular, says Burton Barnes, professor of natural resources and environment. Theyre known for their flat, well-attached needles that resist dropping off.
The national tree varies each year, says Barnes, from a pine tree to spruce, fir tree to a Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), which isnt a true fir.
Probably most fitting for this holiday season would be a tree similar to one developed by geneticists at Michigan State University. Barnes says it is a hybrid combination of our native red (Picea rugens), white (Picea glauca) and blue spruces (Picea pungens).
An estimated 35 million Americans will enjoy the holiday season with a few traditions of their own, possibly including the purchase of a real tree. Picking the perfect tree is a personal preference, says Barnes. Each fir has its own personality.
One of the most common types is a pine. The Scots pine or Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris), named after Scotland, is usually the pine tree of choice, says Barnes. Our native eastern white pine (the Michigan state tree, Pinus strobus,) is also occasionally available. While these trees are growing, theyre sheared to look more like small bushes, and their branches are cut into a conical shape. This helps the pines grow bushier to support lights and other ornaments. Some people select Scots pines that have been sprayed blue or blue-green to enhance the trees color.
Spruce trees are another good option. Their needles are shorter than the pines two-to four-inch needles and theyre stiffer. These hardy needles stand up well to ornaments and lights. Barnes says, however, if youre looking for a tree with very long-lasting needle retention, dont select a spruce. Their needles are attached differently than the fir trees and tend to drop more quickly.
The true firs are another popular choice, especially in Michigan. There is the native balsam fir (Abies balsamea) and also the Fraser fir (Abies fraseri) from the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Fir trees have dark green or silvery-green needles that are flat and well attached. The needles are about an inch long, and the trees will retain their needles and last for two weeks or more. Another good choice, but not a true fir, is the Douglas fir. It is noted for attaining huge sizes in the Pacific Northwest. It has similar characteristics to the true firs.
Whatever your tree of choice, Barnes suggests a little trimming when you get it home. Many of the trees that arent freshly cut have been around for a couple of days. Barnes says to cut off 12 inches of wood at the base of the tree to get fresh tissue exposed. Put the tree in water right away and keep it watered throughout the holiday season. Commercially-prepared chemicals also can help keep your tree looking fresh.
Another way to ensure that your tree lasts through the holidays is to cut one of your own at a local farm. This way your tree will be fresher than if it were cut elsewhere and shipped to a store.