Christmas trees

Homes and public places are being decorated with Christmas trees. For many people here in Britain, December wouldn’t be complete without a tree in the house. The tree is adorned with lights, tinsel and other pretty things.

Various kinds of artificial tree are available. But if you prefer a real tree, in Britain you’ll probably want a Norway spruce (Picea abies). It’s notorious for shedding its needles all over the carpet but people love it anyway. It smells very nice.

The Christmas tree has a long history dating back at least to the 7th century. It’s a German tradition, famously popularised over here by Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert in the 19th century. Since that time, we’ve been at war with Germany twice but the Christmas tree is here to stay.

The Forestry Commission invites us to experience the magic of Christmas in the forest. You can buy your tree from a Christmas tree farm near you because yes, there are plenty of them. In fact Christmas tree farming is a lucrative industry with its own Growers’ Association.

After the festive season, if you purchased a Christmas tree with its roots on, it’s possible to keep it alive. You can nurture it outdoors in the ground or in a container. I’ve known people happy to eat dead animals and birds at Christmas but deeply unwilling to kill their festive trees. Tempting as it may be to keep the tree alive, I say don’t do it! Unless you’re a forester and you want to farm spruce for wood pulp. P. abies isn’t native here. It’s a forest tree which can grow to 40 metres tall.

So decorate your real tree if you wish. Enjoy your festive season. Then say farewell to your tree and move forward to the New Year.

[Edit] A year later, my fellow blogger at Passion in the Horticulture tells us how Christmas trees are grown and harvested, then which tree species people choose.

About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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9 Responses to Christmas trees

  1. Ok deep breath….I think we should all stop buying christmas trees and get rid of those monocultures which support virtually no life and turn them into managed grasslands or let them go into broadleaved succession. I know, I know, it’s not a vote winner…but it’s a fairly recent tradition, victorian I think, we could make a new tradition – ?. Totally agree about killing them off after buying them though – the amount of sad looking xmas trees in peoples gardens I’ve seen is distressing! They languish there, all out of place, and then before they know it they’re huge…

    • argylesock says:

      I agree. Hesitated about writing this post at all because I don’t happen to like Xmas and I’ve never purchased an Xmas tree, real or artificial. But today I was at the garden centre and, as expected, the place was full of people buying Xmas trees. Yet this tradition is pretty new in Britain, like most of the Xmas traditions here.

      A few years ago there was a Norway spruce on an allotment next to the access path I use. It had grown big enough to block the path and to be a danger to the foundations of the site’s shop. Getting that thing felled took a lot of delicate negotiation! and a threat to take a chainsaw to it myself.

  2. Carol Hague says:

    I agree with the other commenter that it would be better not to have live Christmas trees at all – we don’t have any sort of tree, for various reasons (not least because the cat would probably destroy it anyway).

    I doubt that many of the ones people keep after Christmas will ever get to the 40ft tall stage though – lucky to survive until spring after being kept in the warm house for weeks, I suspect!

    As for them not being native, that’s fair enough, but much of what people grow in their gardens, including trees, isn’t native these days. I do agree though, that people should be discouraged from growing very tall things in inappropriate places, like those ghastly conifer hedges that block out the light.

  3. You would not typically see a Norway Spruce as a Christmas tree here in the midwest, but there are such beautiful trees. Fraser firs are very popular here.

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