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O Christmas Tree!

Sad Colorado Blue Spruce, photo by John Meehan
Sad Colorado Blue Spruce, photo by John Meehan

Yes, it is That time of year again.  And this Native Gardener has quite the dilemma on her hands.  I would absolutely love to add a small native evergreen to my yard.  First though, I would need to find a good location, and second, what exactly is a Native Long Island Christmas Tree anyway ?

I nearly squealed with delight when a friend sent me a small live green tree.  It was perfect for a tabletop, and historically, those were what the first trees were.  But that it was identified as a “Christmas Tree,”  left me a little worried.  I could tell it was not a Norfolk Island Pine; a good thing as they are only native to the South Pacific, which explains why they almost always die.  No, it seemed like an arborvitae, which had me even More thrilled.  So I called the company it was from.  I should have known from looking at the website, which also offered Lucky Bamboo trees, that I might be in for an interesting chat.   When I got through, I was prompted to push 1 for the nursery and 2 for Rottweilers.   Thinking, well, both German, I hit 1.  The clerk who answered shouted across what I envisioned as a warehouse.. and the response I overheard was “who wants to know?”   Eventually, I did find out that my sweet little tree that originally held such promise, was a Leyland Cypress.   

Now, these Leylands are a hybrid, with a story about as unusual as well, many Christmas tales, but the Leyland was spawned in England.  The whole history of this “mule” of cyrpi is here for the curious: http://www.thestate.com/2011/10/13/2006947/local-gardening-the-history-and.html .

At any rate, it is green and festive, and since I have a proclivity towards unusual trees, it is staying here.  I purchased a Teal blue series of faux trees online,   Three in increasing size.  They join the white faux Christmas tree I put on a stool. (It is a dog thing,  a big tree is not an option any more). And the small faux evergreen trees we bought at a thrift shop and repurposed  by “pinkifying” them with spray paint, the year someone we loved passed away from Breast Cancer.   (I am figuring my carbon footprint on all of the above; not a one as big as the standard fake Christmas tree, not even collectively, is still about 20 years before it is neutral)

I do not feel good about this.  In fact, I feel a bit maudlin.  When I was in my single years, my family got live evergreen trees and we planted them.   Thirty plus years later, several had to be cut down.  But I recall the excitement: the tree would arrive, it would be houseproofed in the garage.  Then, when the time came, we would get its burlap covered root ball into the large tub (which I do still have) and position it.  Then decorating, then the holidays, then out into the garage again where it just fit between a Station Wagon and the Commuter car.  And by the time it was planted in the Spring, it was an almost forgotten memory.   In my teens we got a fake tree.  Origination unknown.  We never, ever bought a cut tree. 

Fast forward.  As a young mother in my first house, we got a Charlie Brown tree.  We had no shortage of decorations, as those who came before me downsized and passed things along.  One year, we even butchered my family’s former fake tree. (Dog thing).

Then, we inherited the tabletop “Asbesto’s Tree,” a flocked 50’s atomic number.  It and the Elvis Presley ornaments were used for a few years.  The latter I still have.  The flocked tree, we donated when  Atomic-era collecting got big. I just never did trust the whiteness of the flocking to be anything anyone wanted to breathe. But the charity wanted it, so off it went.

Then came the live tree moment.  Our time to shine.  We chose a beautiful Colorado Blue Spruce, did everything right, and it is in our yard still.  Not exactly healthy, because we are not In Colorado or the Rockies, though we live on a hill.  It has begun to brown out in places, and I am just letting nature take her course.  It is a tree out of it’s climate.

Still this begs the question, what IS a Long Island Native Christmas tree ?  Well.. I am going to just say, this is something we may not ever know for sure.  I have visited some sites, and will now share what I learned, which is not very much.

The Nature Conservancy recommends trees for New York City specifically, here: http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/newyork/explore/christmas-tree-shopping-guide.xml.

The article is great, except that a Scotch Pine is not even a North American tree, and blue spruce - you now know that story.

I have another friend who runs a Seasonal Christmas Tree lot out in Greenport. He assured me that Balsams will grow very well here.  They might, but...from what I see here, they are not a native of the region:

http://dendro.cnre.vt.edu/dendrology/syllabus/factsheet.cfm?ID=119.

Next I focused on Fraser Fir; can it grow on Long Island ?
Well I suppose so.  Should it ?   Only is you have the climate and soil of a few Appalachian states: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fraser_Fir 

How about Douglas Firs ?  Here is a search by native range with pictures.  Notice it is a tree primarily of the Pacific Northwest: http://www.google.com/search?q=douglas+fir+native+range&client=safari&rls=en&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=.

At last, I found a tree that is From here.  Though those at the Christmas Tree lot will not have been Grown here, unless you go to the farm and cut it yourself.. (Earlier this week the Patch had a blog on doing just that.) Yes, the White Pine is native to this area: http://www.treesforme.com/eastern_white_pine.html 

(Excellent Site by the way, look at it for all the trees in your yard!).  But then I read the part about it being suited to large areas, which I do not have.   Not to mention, I have not done a new Sun Study of my yard to identify where an evergreen would grow, nor have I pre-dug the hole before a freeze.  And finally, I have no idea where to get a live one. (Leave a link in the comments section if you do.)

So, I decided to just stick with the little mule Cypress masquerading as a Christmas Tree, and my colorful Faux Family.   I am not encouraged when I read about the environmental impact of fake trees.  Mother Earth News put it best: http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/climate-weather/blogs/for-us-christmas-trees-a-festival-of-blights.  (Scroll down)  Toxic PVC’s and lead dust and other environmental no-nos.

But look at the beginning of the article, “A Festival of Blights.”  Apparently Christmas trees are impacted by global warming and the migration of blights.  Just like other crops.   It is a very disheartening read. I especially feel for farmers who have devoted their lives to Christmas Tree farming.

Here is what I recommend:  visit your local Independent Nursery (as in, not a box store).  Talk with them about live evergrren trees.  Let them know you might be interested for next year.  And then support your neighborhood business (or ok, Fire Department, but do at least Talk with your Nursery) and buy a cut tree this year

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It just seems like the most environmentally and economically viable option for our North American growers.  

I have been doing some concurrent research on American Holiday traditions (which essentially are European) and I come across something in a book, which is validated here... Back before the Civil War, Sassafras branches were used by the Pennsylvania Dutch as their Christmas trees: http://www.examiner.com/article/pa-dutch-holiday-traditions.

Now, if any one wants one of those, Sassafras trees are growing happily in my back yard.  Leave a comment, and you too could have a traditional branch.  In the Spring, I will be happy to give a starter plant to any one who is willing to give transplanting them a try.  

Happy Holidays to all.

Hopefully, I will get back with a short list of Suggested Gifts for the Native Gardener.  However, time grows short, just like the days.   If not, look for a blog in January about what you might want to do now that you returned that ugly holiday sweater.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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