Common Species of Christmas Trees

Merry Christmas! I thought it would be fun to talk about common varieties of live Christmas trees and share a few Christmas tree facts. While some choose artificial trees for valid reasons ranging from pets to allergies to cleaning preferences, I wanted to share both information about and my love for live trees.

In the United States, 25-30 million live Christmas trees are sold annually and nearly 350 million Christmas trees grow on tree farms. Artificial Christmas trees eventually end up in landfills, while real tree farms sequester carbon, give off oxygen, stabilize soil, and act as part of the ecosystem as they grow. Alternatively, after being harvested and making our homes a little brighter during the holidays, real trees can be recycled. Many cities turn them into mulch that is often free to the community. This mulch amends the soil as it decomposes. 

Adding to the benefits of a real tree, the Christmas tree industry also contributes to the preservation of green spaces by using around 350,000 acres for tree farming and employs over 100,000 people.

Fraser Fir Abies fraseri      2nd LookGraphics/Getty Images  

The Fraser Fir, Abies fraseri, is considered to be the most popular Christmas tree species in the world. These trees are native to eastern North America and are a popular choice due to their soft needles, sturdy branches, fragrance, and needle retention after cutting. Balsam Firs, Abies balsamea, and Douglas-Firs are two other popular species for Christmas trees. 

Fun fact about the Douglas-Fir is that it is not actually a true Fir tree. While having characteristics that resemble a Fir, they are actually in the genus Pseudotsuga which means “false hemlock”.

Eastern White Pine, Pinus Strobus

Pines are another popular choice when it comes to Christmas trees, with the Scotch Pine, Pinus sylvestris, being the most commonly used. Scotch Pine was introduced to North America from Europe likely in the colonial days. Another pine frequently purchased is Eastern White Pine, Pinus strobus, native to North America. Pines are extremely fragrant, have sturdy branches for ornaments, and can retain needles even when dry. One thing to look out for is they do tend to ooze sticky sap on fresh cuts or broken limbs.

Blue Spruce (USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Herman, D.E. et al. 1996. North Dakota tree handbook. USDA NRCS ND State Soil Conservation Committee; NDSU Extension and Western Area Power Admin., Bismarck, ND. – [1])

Spruce is also a great choice for Christmas trees. Colorado Blue Spruce, Picea pungens, is native to the central and southern Rocky mountains concentrated in Colorado and Utah.  Norway Spruce, Picea abies, native to Europe, is another favored choice. They both tend to have a symmetrical, cone-like shape with strong branches for ornaments. Blue Spruce has a magnificent silver and blue-green color, while Norway Spruce is a forest green. The downsides are that they lack a fragrant scent, and their needles can be sharp in comparison to a Pine or Fir. 

The perfect Christmas tree is different for each family, and the traditions we build around them are as equally diverse. My family had a yearly Christmas tradition where we would all bundle up, travel to a tree farm and spend time together choosing the perfect tree that my dad would cut down and carry back. Later, once we got the tree to the car and loaded, we would warm up inside with hot chocolate. This remains one of my favorite Christmas traditions along with having a Christmas tree in the house. Having this small piece of nature in the center of our home, decorated with lights and ornaments we have collected throughout the years, makes our home warmer and cozier around the holidays. When I choose a live tree now, I prefer Fir trees due to them having less sap than Pine, softer needles than a Spruce, good needle retention and a festive scent which brings back my favorite Christmas memories. 

Feel free to share with us your favorite Christmas tree memories or traditions. We hope you all have a happy holiday season!

Kyle Strain
Lead Horticulturist

4 thoughts on “Common Species of Christmas Trees

  1. Christmas tree options are surprisingly regional. Fraser fir is not even grown here, so must be imported. Noble fir does not grow well here, so likewise must be imported. Monterey pine is somewhat popular, perhaps because it performs so well here. Spruce are unheard of as cut trees. However, arizona cypress, although rare, is less rare than any of the spruce.

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