Field of Science

'Tis the Season Tree Identification

The Phactor fields this question almost annually. Are Christmas trees the same as pine trees or evergreens? In short, no. A pine tree is a member of the genus Pinus, and among those trees sold as Christmas trees is the Scotch pine. Pines are characterized by having their needles in clusters of 2, as does the Scotch pine, 3, or 5. Many of the yuletide trees are firs (Abies), widely liked because of their fragrant foliage and sap. Their needles are borne singly and they leave a circular scar on the twig when they fall off. Here in the USA balsam, fraser, and noble firs are the three species sold. In some places junipers or red cedars are used, and sometimes so are Douglas-firs, which is not a true fir. Every now and then you see spruces. All of these conifers are evergreens because they are not deciduous, but there are both deciduous conifers and many everygreen flowering plants too. So evergreen does not mean either pine or conifer. Many people have simply given up on real trees having switched to artificial trees that now represent the artificiality of the Christmas season, just as evergreens used to represent a renewal of life to celebrate Saturnalia when the days began getting longer again and light began returning. Mrs. Phactor is a tree traditionalist, so fir it is.


Watcher said...

I'm with Mrs. Phactor. Grand Fir is my favorite.

Anonymous said...

Does anybody in the southwest go out and cut single-leaf pinyon pine?

A local tree farm sells what they call a Canaan fir - I'm not sure it it's a horticultural variety or hybrid, but it looks sort of like a cross between a balsam fir and a Frazier fir (neither of which would grow well here in Missouri).