How to choose the best Christmas tree, whether you want a rich pine scent or long-lasting needles – DNyuz

How to choose the best Christmas tree, whether you want a rich pine scent or long-lasting needles

If you’re going to buy a live Christmas tree this year, there’s a good chance it will be a fir. In 2019, 71% of all trees sold were firs, according to the US Department of Agriculture. Fraser, Douglas and Noble were the top three.

There’s a friendly competition between Christmas tree experts over the merits of the Fraser fir and the Noble fir, Justin G. A. Whitehill, lead of the Christmas Tree Genetics Program at North Carolina State University, told Insider. “But those two are the preeminent species in the country.”

Both species have great needle retention, according to Bert Cregg, a professor in the Department of Horticulture at Michigan State University. It’s often a sought-after feature for those who like to keep their trees up for weeks.

Plus, the needles tend to be less pokey than those on spruce trees.

For some, though, other characteristics are equally important. “A lot of it’s just a matter of choice,” Cregg said, “what people like in terms of scent and shape and needle color and all of that.”

What’s the difference between pine, fir, and spruce trees?

One of the easiest ways to distinguish between conifer — or cone-bearing — trees is to look at the needles.

The trick to remembering the difference between spruces and firs is their first letter, “s” or “f.” Spruce needles tend to be sharp, and fir are usually flat, Whitehill said.

Pines are also easy to tell apart. The needles of pine trees are not individually attached but instead clustered together.

What trees are available in my area?

Where you live may determine what type of trees are readily available. Oregon, North Carolina, and Michigan are the states that grow the most Christmas trees. “Each region sort of has their own species that they grow,” Whitehill said.

In the Northwest, Noble firs are grown, North Carolina is known for Frasers and Michigan has Douglases and Frasers.

Some trees are shipped throughout the US, and there’s a decent chance of seeing either Fraser or Noble firs at your local lot or retailer, Whitehill said.

The National Christmas Tree Association has a map for finding farms and other retailers that sell live Christmas trees.

Which Christmas tree has the best aroma?

Balsam trees are known for their bold, long-lasting scent, Cregg said. “When you buy a candle” labeled Christmas tree, “they’re usually Balsam scented,” he said.

Scent can be subjective. You may, therefore, prefer the concolor fir with lemon scent. Those sensitive to smells may prefer a Leyland cypress, which has little aroma, Whitehill said.

The scents associated with Christmas trees tend to be woodsy or pine. “Genes called terpene synthases produce an array of aromatic compounds,” Whitehill said.

Some of the typical compounds, known as terpenes, found in firs include pinene (pine), limonene (citrus), myrcene (thyme), phellandrene (mint), and camphene (camphor, a waxy substance made from turpentine). The amount of different compounds in each species contributes to the scent.

Whitehill is researching ways to enhance Fraser Firs’ scent. “We’re working towards trying to develop different varietals of Christmas trees just like you would for various components of a wine,” he said.

Fraser fir

Whitehill admitted he was biased since he primarily works on Fraser firs, but he said it’s “considered to be the perfect Christmas tree.”

In addition to its ability to hang on to its needles after harvest, the tree grows uniformly and has sturdy branches for hanging lights and ornaments, Whitehill said.

Cregg also likes Frasers and gravitates towards them when buying a tree. He noted the dark green foliage and needles with a silvery underside

“It’s just got a real Christmas tree form to it,” Cregg said. “It just looks like a Christmas tree, and people just like that.”

While Whitehill noted that the tree “smells like the holidays,” Cregg said the aroma wasn’t as strong as others, like Balsams.

Some of the compounds in its foliage may produce a piney or even caramel-y scent.

Douglas fir

Douglas firs aren’t true firs, Whitehill said. “It’s kind of in its own little group.”

The trees are known for being bushy, with dark green or blue-green needles. Cregg explained that the trees will have a dense shape. “Some people like that; some people don’t.”

Heavier ornaments tend to droop on their branches, which aren’t as sturdy as some other varieties.

The scent of Douglas firs is distinctive and has been described as earthy, spicy, or sweet.

Noble fir

“The Noble fir is the king up in the northwest,” Cregg said. According to him, the needle retention of this tree is better than Frasers.

Its bluish needles are compared with hockey sticks due to their curvature. That shape also exposes the branches a bit. Cregg noted that the tree is more open.

Based on its compounds, Nobles smell woodsy with perhaps a touch of citrus and mint.

Balsam fir

The main draw of the Balsam fir is its scent, both Whitehill and Bert said.

“It is a very, very aromatic fir, very similar to the aroma profile of Fraser fir, but it tends to be even stronger,” Whitehill said. It’s heavy on pine notes.

Its main drawback is that it sheds its dark-green needles easily.

“People really like that scent, and they’ll put up with a few needles on the floor to have that,” Cregg said.

Concolor fir

Two things stand out about the concolor fir. The needles of the concolor fir can appear almost blue. And it smells like citrus fruit.

It grows in a pyramid-shaped shape. “It’s a really interesting-looking tree,” Cregg said.

“If the needles are crushed a bit, they emit a citrusy scent,” Cregg explained. He said that some people are attracted to it by its smell.

Whitehill cautioned that the concolor’s needle retention might not be as good as other species’.

Turkish fir and Nordmann firs

Some growers are turning to Turkish and Nordmann firs because of their disease resistance, Cregg said. The two are closely related species from southeastern Europe.

“They have very, very dark green foliage” and are beautiful trees, Cregg said.

Nordmanns are a favorite Christmas tree in Europe. With good needle retention and fast growth, these trees could become more popular in the US in the coming years.

Canaan fir

Cregg called the Canaan fir “an intermediate” between Balsams and Frasers, meaning it has attributes of both. He said that it keeps needles better than Balsams. It is also more tolerant of growers.

Whitehill said that some retailers may label Canaans as Frasers, but their aroma isn’t as strong.

Scotch (or Scots) pine

Both Whitehill and Cregg noted that Scotch pine isn’t as popular as it once was. Cregg says that it’s difficult to grow because of pest problems.

You may still be able to find these trees. Cregg explained that Christmas is all about traditions, and many people have grown up using Scotch Pines. “There’s still a few growers that produce them.”

The tree tends to hang on to its bright green needles. The tree’s bark is distinctively orange and the stiff branches are ideal for ornaments.

White pine

Some pros of the white pine, which is one of Michigan’s native trees, are its height and pliable needles. The needles are blue-green and tend to stay put.

However, its branches can’t withstand heavy ornaments. This tree has a very low scent, which can be a positive or – depending on your preferences – a negative.

Blue spruce

As their name suggests, blue spruces have distinctive blue-gray needles. Whitehill stated that the trees are beautiful, but very, very prickly.

Cregg advised wearing gloves to handle the tree and when putting ornaments on it. “Some people claim it will keep the cat out of your tree because they’re so prickly,” he said.

Those spiky needles and their stiff branches help keep ornaments in place. This type of tree seems to have a shorter lifespan and may not last from Thanksgiving to Christmas.

White spruce

The short-needled white spruce has a classic pyramid shape. The color of the white spruce can vary from gray-green, to blue-green. It holds on to its needles a bit better than other spruces.

But crush those needles results in an unpleasant smell. “Some people will say it’s akin to cat urine,” Cregg said. “Definitely you want to take a whiff of your tree before you bring one of those home.”

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