Tree Notes is about trees -- especially native trees, trees for wildlife, and trees in history.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

"Green" Christmas trees

The usual Christmas tree debate with a new green twist

Every Christmas, there's discussion about the pros and cons of real and artificial Christmas trees.

Environmental costs of artificial trees include the air pollutants that may be emitted from the factory. Fossil fuels are consumed in their manufacture and delivery, especially if the factory is in China. Artificial trees usually contain PVC, a type of plastic which is hard to recycle. Another item of concern: some artificial trees contain lead.

Real Christmas trees have environmental costs as well. Tree farm runoff from fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides can degrade water quality, disrupt natural ecosystems, and even endanger wildlife and other life forms. Soil erosion may occur. Fossil fuels are consumed in harvesting the trees, bringing them to market, and in many cases, in disposal. In addition, they can be a fire hazard in the home if they are not properly tended.

Environmentally friendly growing practices

This year, the Christmas tree market will include 200,000 trees grown by members of the Coalition of Environmentally-Conscious Growers. These tree growers have met certain standards in order to join the group and use the label:

To pass muster, a farm must be inspected to ensure that it meets certain standards for managing wetlands, nutrients and pests. Water and soil conservation measures are reviewed, and biodiversity and worker safety are also considered.

Source: Ore. Growers Promote "Green" Xmas Trees, by Sarah Skidmore, AP writer

More tree growers are expected to join the coalition in the future. Many are just waiting to be certified.

This marketing strategy targets consumers who worry about the environment. The "sustainable" practices on these tree farms will indeed be better for the environment. We can hope that, as a result of the coalition, all Christmas tree growers will feel pressured to improve soil and water conservation efforts and practice "greener" chemical use, even if they don't attempt certification.


We got our last real Christmas tree when we lived in Berlin, Germany. It cost about $70, a considerable sum in 1990. We followed all the rules to keep it fresh, but its needles began falling immediately, and it was such a mess that I took it down the day after Christmas.

The next year, we bought a little artificial tree which we used for the next 14 years. I finally advertised it in the newspaper and sold it to a young family who intended to continue using it. I purchased another, slightly larger, artificial tree, and it is now in its 4th year of use.

Most of those years, we put our tree up the day after Thanksgiving and didn't take it down until well after New Year's Day.

I don't know how the environmental cost of that little artificial tree compares to 14 real trees, but we did enjoy it for many, many days. A year and a half of total use is a conservative estimate!

2 comments -- please add yours:

new york city garden said...


This is a great blog-glad I stumbled into it. I put a link to your site on my linklist. My site is young:
I heard that Xmas trees have many pesticides sprayed because homeowners don't want any bugs on a tree they take into there home. Either way, my wife and I agree that if the tree is in the lot, its already dead so we may as well get one. Though many years we just have none. Here's an interesting link that makes me think twice:

Genevieve said...

Thanks for your kind words and for the link. I wish I had more time to post to my blogs, but at the moment, my real life doesn't leave much time for my cyber life.

That was an interesting link. I enjoyed looking at it. I do understand why Christmas tree growers use various chemicals -- it's to satisfy their customers. It's like growing any other type of "produce" -- no one will buy the apple that's misshapen or the green beans that the bugs have bit. And no one wants a Christmas tree that's less than perfect in shape and color, either.

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Enrich your life with the study of trees.

"The power to recognize trees at a glance without examining their leaves or flowers or fruit as they are seen, for example, from the car-window during a railroad journey, can only be acquired by studying them as they grow under all possible conditions over wide areas of territory. Such an attainment may not have much practical value, but once acquired it gives to the possessor a good deal of pleasure which is denied to less fortunate travelers."

Charles Sprague Sargent (1841-1927)

Print references I frequently consult

Benvie, Sam. Encyclopedia of North American Trees. Buffalo, NY: Firefly, 2000.

Brockman, C. Frank. Trees of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. Ed. Herbert S. Zim. New York: Golden, 1986.

Cliburn, Jerry, and Ginny Clomps. A Key to Missouri Trees in Winter: An Identification Guide. Conservation Commission of the State of Missouri, 1980.

Collingwood, G. H., Warren David Brush, and Devereux Butcher. Knowing Your Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1978.

Dirr, Michael. Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: an Illustrated Encyclopedia. Portland, Or.: Timber, 1997.

Elias, Thomas S. The Complete Trees of North America; Field Guide and Natural History. New York: Book Division, Times Mirror Magazines, 1980.

Grimm, William Carey. The Book of Trees;. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1962.

Hightshoe, Gary L. Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America: a Planting Design Manual for Environmental Designers. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988.

Little, Elbert L. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees. New York: Chanticleer, 1996.

Martin, Alexander C., Herbert S. Zim, and Arnold L. Nelson. American Wildlife and Plants. New York: McGraw Hill, 1951.

Mitchell, Alan F., and David More. The Trees of North America. New York, NY: Facts On File Publications, 1987.

Randall, Charles E. Enjoying Our Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1969.

Settergren, Carl D., and R. E. McDermott. Trees of Missouri. Columbia: University Extension, 1995.

Sternberg, Guy, and James W. Wilson. Native Trees for North American Landscapes: from the Atlantic to the Rockies. Portland: Timber, 2004.

Wharton, Mary E., and Roger W. Barbour. Trees and Shrubs of Kentucky. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1973.

Wyman, Donald. Trees for American Gardens. New York: Macmillan, 1965.

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