Published: Nov. 26, 2008

New fir varieties sprout on Christmas tree farms and lots this season

Contact(s): Mark Fellows Media Communications office: (517) 884-0166, Jill O''Donnell MSU Extension office: (231) 779-9480

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Christmas tree buyers who prefer fragrant, hardy fir trees might find some new choices this year as Michigan growers begin cutting varieties first planted in quantity just a few years ago.


Korean, Nordmann and cork bark fir trees are starting to come on the market to join already established varieties including the Fraser, Douglas, balsam and concolor fir, said Jill O’Donnell, a Michigan State University Extension educator who specializes in Christmas trees.


Fir trees are a popular species, she said, and Michigan growers have been experimenting with different varieties to offer more choices to consumers, improve growth and other attributes.


“True firs have excellent needle retention and they have that traditional shape and aroma we think of when one imagines a Christmas tree. Another option for consumers is concolor firs, which have a more citrus-like fragrance,” O’Donnell said.


Korean fir might be the most easily found of the recent arrivals at Michigan tree farms, O’Donnell said. Its foliage looks coarser than most — a deep green shade — but underneath, the needles have a striking white hue.


Nordmann fir, which is widely grown in Denmark and other countries for the European market, features very glossy, dark green foliage and a layered appearance. Cork bark fir, native to the American Southwest, is distinguished by a bluish-green color, shorter needles and whitish bark.


Michigan consumers have much to select from, O’Donnell said. With more than eight types commercially grown thanks to this state’s favorable climate,


“Consumers should be able to find a variety of trees -- that’s what Michigan is known for,” she said.


The past few years have featured very dry summers that reduced the survival of many of the newly transplanted trees, the Cadillac, Mich.-based O’Donnell said, but this year moderate temperatures, increased rainfall and a cool fall promise high quality trees and good needle retention this season.


Keeping cut trees fresh is a matter of sufficient water, she said – a quart daily for each inch of trunk diameter. In other words, a four-inch trunk requires a gallon of water each day. And there’s no need to add “preservatives” of any sort.


“Research shows that just plain water does just as good a job,” O’Donnell said. “And make sure you have a fresh cut on that tree.”


Michigan is third in the nation in Christmas tree production, O’Donnell said, and its Christmas tree market amounts to upward of $60 million annually, including live trees, garland and wreaths. Its 780 growers plant 42,000 acres and sell about 3.5 million trees annually.




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