By the time that you read this Christmas will all be over and done with. The baubles will have been wrapped up and packed away without, hopefully, too many breakages. Tinsel, if that is your thing and I don’t see why not, will have been gathered up and strings of lights carefully wound around a square of cardboard. Despite all of these precautions they might still end up like something resembling a birds nest when you unpack everything next year. The last thing to go out is usually the tree. This is often a daunting task. Size matters when choosing a Christmas tree. How big does it need to be to be impressive? Too big and you end up with neck ache from trying to peer around it to watch the Queen’s speech. When brought from the Christmas tree grower or garden centre it is easy to underestimate the size of the tree whilst overestimating the size of the room!
Cut Christmas trees have surged in popularity. The British Christmas Tree Growers Association estimates the over 8 million trees are sold by its 320 or more members. The BCTGA website also has a code of practise for members as well as advice on caring for your cut tree. The Association holds an annual competition for the best Christmas tree the winner of which gets to supply the tree for 10 Downing Street and the winner with the best foliage supplies the wreath for the famous black door. However by now most trees will be sawn up and sent for recycling with other garden waste or looking sadly forlorn at the bottom of the garden, bereft of needles. If you are like me you will probably be picking needles out of your socks in June.
Yet, have you ever wondered what your Christmas tree might look like if it had never been a Christmas tree? For many years the favourite tree of British shoppers has been Picea abies, the Norway Spruce. This beautifully scented tree can grow up to 60 metres tall with a trunk up to two metres across. It has a broadly conical outline with dense spiky branches covered in bright green needles. The Norway spruce has the broadest natural range of its genus, occurring from the Maritime Alps to Siberia and is one of the most important and widely cultivated species in forestry and horticulture. They can live for 300 years. The Nordmann fir, Abies nordmanniana is the most popular Christmas tree sold in Britain. It has soft needles which do not drop readily. In its natural environment around the mountains surrounding the Black Sea from Russia to Turkey it can grow to 70 metres and individuals can live for 500 years. A popular entry from America is the Fraser fir though it makes a more diminutive specimen growing only to 30 metres. The trunk usual reaches a
metre or so in diameter with flaky grey bark. Originating in the high Appalachian mountains of Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee it is named after a Scottish plant explorer. Though it is naturally short lived it makes a shapely conical tree when young which is why it has made a popular entry into the Christmas tree market.
So when you wave goodbye to your tree you might pause to think of the multi-million pound industry that has grown up. Plants that have been collected in the wild and were once expensive novelties from across the globe are grown and sold by the million. Not bad for an imported tradition even if the man who made it popular was a prince.
Best wishes for 2018!