UI Extension offers information on Christmas trees

UI Extension offers information on Christmas trees

By The University of Illinois Extension

Pining to get this year's Christmas tree?

"Having a little knowledge about Christmas tree varieties will make your quest for the perfect tree an easy one," said Ron Wolford, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

Wolford provided the following brief descriptions of popular Christmas tree varieties:

Balsam fir (Abies balsamea)

It has short, flat, long-lasting needles that are rounded at the tip and are 3/4 to 11/2 inches long. It has a nice dark green color with a silvery cast and is fragrant. It's named for the balsam or resin found in blisters on bark. Resin is used to make microscope slides and was sold like chewing gum; it also was used to treat wounds in the Civil War.

Canaan fir (Abies balsamea var.phanerolepis)

The tree has soft, short, bluish to dark green needles, 1/2 to 11/4 inches long. Its needles are silver on underside. It has strong branches and an open growing pattern. It has good needle retention and pleasant fragrance.

Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)

It has a good fragrance and holds blue to dark green. The tree has 1- to 11/2-inch needles; the needles have one of the best aromas among Christmas trees when crushed. Its branches are spreading and drooping. After being cut, the Douglas fir will last three to four weeks. Named after David Douglas, who studied the tree in the 1800s, the tree has a good conical shape andcan live for 1,000 years.

Fraser fir (Abies fraseri)

It has dark green, flattened needles that are 1/2 to 1 inch long. The tree has good needle retention, a nice scent, is shaped like a pyramid and has strong branches that turn upward. The Fraser fir was named for botanist John Fraser, who explored the southern Appalachians in the late 1700s.

Grand fir (Adies grandis)

The tree has shiny, dark green needles about 1 to 11/2 inches long. When crushed, the needles give off a citrusy smell. It will last three to four weeks after being cut.

Noble fir (Abies procera)

The tree has 1-inch-long needles and is bluish green with a silvery appearance. It has short, stiff branches, perfect for heavier ornaments. It keeps well and is used to make wreaths, door swags and garland. With good care, the tree will last for six weeks after being cut.

Concolor fir (Abies concolor)

Its blue-green needles are 1/2 to 11/2 inches long; it has a nice shape and a good aroma, a citrus scent. The tree has good needle retention. In nature, the concolor fir can live to 350 years.

Austrian fir (Pinus nigra)

It has dark green needles, 4 to 6 inches long. It retains needles well and has a moderate fragrance.

Red pine (Pinus resinosa)

This big and bushy tree has dark green needs that are 4 to 6 inches long.

Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris)

This is the most common Christmas tree. Its stiff branches hold heavy ornaments well. It has dark green needles that are an inch long and will hold for four weeks, even when dry. It has an open appearance and more room for ornaments and keeps aroma throughout the season. It was introduced in the United States by European settlers.

Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana)

Its dark green needles are 11/2 to 3 inches long in twisted pairs. Its strong branches enable it to hold heavy ornaments. The tree, popular in the South, has a strong aromatic pine scent.

White pine (Pinus strobus)

Its soft, blue-green needles, 2 to 5 inches long, come in bundles of five. The tree retains needles throughout the holiday season. The very full tree has little or no fragrance and causes fewer allergic reactions compared to more fragrant trees. It won't hold heavy ornaments. It's the largest pine in the nation and the state tree of Michigan and Maine.

Blue spruce (Picea pungens)

It is dark green to powdery blue, has very stiff needles that are 3/4 to 11/2 inches long and has good form. The tree will drop needles in a warm room. It's symmetrical but best among species for needle retention. Branches will support many heavy decorations. The blue spruce is the state tree of Utah and Colorado, and it can live in nature 600 to 800 years.

Norway spruce (Picea abies)

Its shiny, dark green needles are 1/2 to 1 inch long. Needle retention is poor without proper care. It has a strong fragrance and a nice conical shape. The tree is very popular in Europe.

White spruce (Picea glauca)

Its green to bluish green needles are 1/2 to 3/4 inch long and short, stiff and strong. When crushed, the needles have an unpleasant odor. The white spruce is the state tree of South Dakota.

Leyland cypress (Cupressus x leylandii)

It's dark green, has no aroma, has a good shape and will not support large ornaments. The tree is very popular in the southeast United States.

Whatever variety of Christmas tree you choose for your home, proper watering and keeping your house as moist and cool as possible will help lengthen enjoyment of your tree and promote safety, Wolford said.

For more information, visit the Christmas Trees and More website at http://urbanext.illinois.edu/trees/.

Tips for keeping your Christmas tree fresh

Every holiday season, there are stories about Christmas trees catching fire in homes.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, about one-tenth of 1 percent of residential fires involves a Christmas tree — real or artificial. In fires where the Christmas tree was the first thing to burn, 44 percent of those fires involved an electrical malfunction, 24 percent were caused by the tree being too close to a heat source and 6 percent were the result of children playing with fire or some other heat source.

To keep your tree from becoming a statistic, UI Extension horticulture educator Ron Wolford suggests following these tree-care safety tips:

— If you are not putting the tree up right away, store it in an unheated garage or another area out of the wind and cold (freezing) temperatures. Make a fresh 1-inch cut on the butt end and place the tree in a bucket of water.

— When you bring the tree indoors, make another fresh 1-inch cut and place the tree in a sturdy stand that holds at least 1 gallon of water — or 1 quart of water for every inch of diameter of the trunk.

"Be sure to keep the water level about the base of the tree," he said. "If the base dries out, resin will form over the cut end, and the tree will not be able to absorb water and will dry out quickly.

"Commercially prepared mixes, aspirin, sugar and other additives to the water are not necessary. Research has shown that plain water will keep a tree fresh."

— Keep the tree as far as possible from heat sources such as heaters, vents and fireplaces. Keeping the room cool will slow drying.

— Check all Christmas tree lights for worn electrical cords. Be sure to use UL-approved electrical decorations and cords and turn off the tree lights when leaving the house or during the night. Also, avoid overloading electrical circuits.

Wolford suggests using miniature lights that produce less heat to reduce the drying effect on the tree.

— Finally, take down the tree before it dries out. Many fresh-cut trees, if properly cared for, will last a few weeks before drying out, Wolford said.

"After Christmas, recycle your tree. Many communities will pick up trees and turn them into chips," he said. "Or you might consider putting the tree in your backyard and placing bread and suet among the branches for the birds."

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