A Guide to All the Different Types of Christmas Trees
Legend has it that the first Christmas tree was carried in 1510 to a Latvian town square and set aflame while townspeople sang and danced around it. By the Victorian era, the custom was to bring a tree indoors on Christmas Eve and trim it with sweets, garlands, and candles; it was considered bad luck to keep a tree for more than the 12 days of Christmas.
Times have changed: "Now people come for a tree right before Thanksgiving, and they want it to last at least through New Year's, or even Valentine's Day," says Katherine Humphrey, who co-owns All Western Evergreen Nursery & Christmas Tree Farm in Springwater, New York.
This season, reference our guide to find the most suitable variety, and then visit a local tree farm and ask the experts for advice. These growers will help you find the best tree for your needs, and then cut and bale it for you. The website of the National Christmas Tree Association, makes it possible to search by ZIP code for farms offering a cut-your-own experience. Many state growing associations also have websites with listings. Two things to remember to bring to the farm (or to ask whether they'll be provided) are a measuring tape and a handsaw. (Before you cut a tree, it pays to know it will fit in your living room.) As you browse, flag favorites with a bandanna so that it will be easier to comparison shop. The first trees to get picked over tend to be the ones near the parking lot, so the farther reaches of a farm might offer a better selection. Leave a good stump on the tree you cut, and trim one-half inch at home before putting it in water.
Can't make the trek to the country? Urban pop-up retail lots may stock local trees: Just avoid tired ones with noticeable needle loss, discolored foliage, a musty odor, or wrinkled bark, advises Rick Dungey of the National Christmas Tree Association. Or, if you'd rather stay warm and cozy at home, join the growing number of people who order a tree online and have it delivered.
No matter which you choose, a day at a tree farm can yield not only the ideal evergreen, but also a new family tradition.
Sturdy branches make this Pacific Northwest native a good choice if you have a lot of weighty ornaments. The tree has thick, silvery-green needles and limbs that stick straight out from the trunk, giving this fir a full, rounded appearance.
Eastern White Pine
This large blue-green tree grows along the American-Canadian border. It's often sheared to have a more narrow silhouette and it retains its long, soft, bluish needles well (always in bunches of five). Caveat: The flexible branches can make decorating difficult (its dense look can obscure ornaments, and the springy branches aren't good with bulky garlands or lights), plus there's little aroma.
Indigenous to the West, Great Lakes, and the Northeast, this sweet-scented tree has a tall, narrow silhouette. Its flat, silvery-blue and bluish-green needles smell faintly of citrus. Full, bushy branches support heavier ornaments and have excellent needle retention. It's also called a white fir.
"Carolina Sapphire" Cypress
This southern dweller is naturally broad and has a strong scent of lemon and mint. It's very similar to the "Blue Ice" cypress (and has similar drawbacks).
As the preferred Christmas tree in Europe, this evergreen is becoming increasingly popular in the United States. It's grown primarily in the Pacific Northwest and is prized for its fat pyramid shape and lush, dark-green foliage.
Feathery, dark-green to gray foliage sets apart this Christmas tree. Its longevity and delicate branches make it a highly sought after Christmas tree in the South. The silhouette varies from tree to tree and can be tall and slender or squat and rounded. The species absorbs an unusually large amount of water; its stand needs to be refilled several times per day.
This classic northeastern Christmas tree is a near twin of the Fraser fir. Its needles are a deep green, and the tree has a pyramid shape that culminates in a slender top.
One of the most common holiday trees in the Pacific Northwest, this species has firm branches and soft, blue-green or dark-green needles that emit a fragrance when crushed. Its foliage is fuller and thicker than a Fraser. Caveat: Its needles won't last as long on the branch. It grows rapidly in a pyramidal shape. Light in weight, it can be easier to transport than other trees.
"Blue Ice" Cypress
A cultivar of the Arizona cypress, this silvery-blue tree has a citrus aroma and a narrow steeple shape. It's found in the Gulf states, Georgia, and South Carolina. The branches support small lights, tinsel, and a few ornaments, but nothing heavy.
A pair of silvery stripes on the underside of each needle distinguishes this aromatic tree from the nearly identical balsam fir. Found in high-elevation regions of the South as well as in the Northeast and Great Lakes states, it has strong, upturned branches that are ideal for dangling ornaments.