Christmas Trees, a North Carolina Commodity
It’s no secret that Christmas trees are a big part of the agricultural landscape of North Carolina. So big in fact that North Carolina is number two in the nation in Christmas tree production. The only state in the nation that produces more trees than North Carolina is Oregon. We grow so many trees that nearly one in five real Christmas trees purchased in the United States can be traced back to a farm in North Carolina. There are over 40,000 acres of Christmas trees in North Carolina, and over 4 million trees cut here and sold every year! During the pandemic, supporting local agriculture is as important as ever!
The tradition of putting up a Christmas tree is nothing new. In fact, decorating with evergreens in December dates back longer than Christianity. Pagans, in ancient Rome, used fir branches to decorate around the time of the winter solstice. The evergreen branches reminded them of the spring to come and that plants would grow again.
The Christmas tree, as we know it, has its roots in Germany, sometime in the 1500s. Evergreen trees were then decorated with real candles, please don’t try that today! The candles helped to recreate the scene of stars in the winter night which twinkled through evergreen branches. Christmas trees were not a hit at first in the United States, in fact, in the early 1800s, many thought they were an oddity. Americans then viewed them as pagan symbols, and did not accept them into part of the Christmas celebration. By the mid 1800s, Queen Victoria had accepted the Christmas tree as a part of the royal family traditions in Britain. This had a strong effect of Americans, and began to popularize the idea. By the 1890s, Christmas trees had become a part of the American family tradition, with one noticeable difference from European trees. The Europeans preferred small trees, while Americans chose trees which reached from floor to ceiling.
A real Christmas tree also has benefits that extend beyond the decoration in our homes. Before being cut and sold, Christmas trees help to clean the air, and convert carbon dioxide to oxygen. It is estimated that for each acre of Christmas trees, enough oxygen is supplied for the needs of 18 people. That means here in North Carolina, Christmas trees provide oxygen for almost a million people, and if you look nationwide, they provide for an estimated 18 million people. That’s a lot of fresh air! Not only that, trees help to prevent soil erosion, provide a habitat for wildlife, and protect our water supply. Since there will be demand for Christmas trees every year, once they are harvested, new trees will be planted to take their place. The benefits of a real tree don’t stop after Christmas either. A used tree can be mulched and used in the garden, or placed whole in the back yard where it will provide habitat and shelter for small animals and song birds before it biodegrades. Whole trees can also be used by construction companies to help prevent soil erosion. Some are even sunk into ponds to provide habitat and shelter for fish.
The Fraser Fir remains the most popular tree in North Carolina, however, it is not the only option. The Fraser Fir grows very well in the mountain counties of our state, but it is not well suited for the higher temperatures we see in our neck of the woods. That doesn’t mean we can’t grow Christmas trees here though. Did you know that there are farms right here in Lee County where you can visit, choose, and cut your very own Christmas trees? You can find these farms on the Visit NC Farms App as well as by contacting me at the McSwain Center. These farms offer excellent choices of trees, including, but not limited to, White Pine, Leyland Cypress, and Red Cedar. This means when buying a Christmas tree, there is yet another opportunity to support North Carolina agriculture, and to shop local! I’m sure most of you have already purchased your tree this year, and maybe you got it from one of the local choose and cut farms, or from a local nursery. If not, I hope you will consider that option next year. Either way, if you have a real tree, there is a good chance that you are enjoying a one of the many quality products of North Carolina Agriculture.
Mitchell Williams is the Agriculture Agent – Field Crops and Livestock for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.