Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Saturday

December 8, 2012

Ag forum: A primer on evergreens

Christmas trees offer us another opportunity to buy local this holiday season, with Michigan being one of the top producers in the nation.

The most common Christmas Trees species produced in Michigan include Scotch pine, Colorado blue spruce, Douglas-fir, Concolor fir, Fraser fir and Canaan fir. Each of these species or seed sources has unique characteristics that make them well suited to grow under Michigan conditions and contributes to their suitability as a Christmas tree.

Let's start with the true fir trees, which include Fraser (Abiesfraseri), Concolor (Abies concolor) and Canaan fir (Abiesbalsamea var. phanerolepis). Fraser fir hail from southern Appalachia and have uniquely colored bluish-green needles with a silver underside. They are a consumer favorite due to good needle retention.

Concolor are also native to the U.S. and have long needles with a silvery or pale blue cast. The needles are spread out along the shoot in a spiral pattern, giving it a distinctive look. Perhaps the most notable quality of the Concolor is the citrus scent.

Lastly, the Canaan fir is a balsam fir denoted for its seed source, which is located in the Canaan Valley of West Virginia. It combines attributes of the Fraser and balsam fir and is popular among growers because it is less susceptible to frosts.

The Douglas-fir (Psuedotsugamenziesii) is an imposter — it in fact is not a true fir at all. Its scientific name translates from Latin as "false hemlock," as scientists struggled to properly classify it due to its similarities with many other tree species. In fact, taxonomic history shows us that it has landed in a number of genera including Abies, Pinus, Tsuga and even Sequoia. Because of their distinctive cones, Douglas-firs were finally placed in a new genus, Pseudotsuga, in 1867. Douglas-fir has a full, bushy canopy that is appealing to the eye and makes it a much sought-after Christmas tree.

Scotch pine (Pinussylvestris) is widely grown, with a deep-rooted history in the Michigan Christmas tree industry and still accounts for 25 percent of production. Native to Europe and Asia, it was introduced into North America around 1600 and is an important timber and pulp species. Scotch pine produces a dense, full canopy and is both drought and cold tolerant making them a good choice for Michigan production.

Colorado blue spruce (Piceapungens) is native to the Rocky Mountains and is loved for its amazing blue-gray color (though some trees are totally green in color). It boasts stiff needles and branches, ideal for hanging ornaments, stringing lights and holding tinsel.

Visit for a list of Michigan tree retailers and farms. With all of the tree choices we have in Michigan, it's hard to go wrong this season. Happy holidays!

Erin Lizotte is an Integrated Pest Management Educator with Michigan State University Extension in Cadillac.

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