Identifying Holiday Trees

Cutting a holiday tree on the Forest.There are good trees for holiday use, not so good trees, and some trees which you aren't allowed to harvest.  How do you pick a tree?

Size is one factor in choosing a tree.  Pick a tree that is the right size for your house.  You may only leave a 12 inch stump, and you may not cut a large tree and keep only the top.  Trees have to be smaller than 4 inches in diameter at chest level for use as a personal Christmas tree.  

Location is another factor.  Trees grown in the open have more branches and are usually fuller, so look for openings.  Be careful though, you are not allowed to harvest trees from roadsides or developed recreation areas, or from places where trees have been planted.

What species of tree you choose is also important.  Here are some identification tips to help you in your selection.



Balsam Fir:      Our Preferred Tree for the Holidays

Drawing of a balsam fir for identificationBalsam fir is the preferred species for holiday decoration.  It has that classic holiday scent, holds its needles well, and is soft to the touch.  It is also abundant in the Forest, and in some places actually needs to be removed as it provides too much fuel for wildfires.  It is often found under larger trees, but also likes to grow in open areas, often right after a disturbance like a fire.  In the open, it puts out more branches and makes a beautiful holiday tree.  You can identify a balsam fir by the pitch filled blisters on its smooth bark.  The needles are single rather than grouped, and leave no bump behind when they fall off.  Needles are flat with a distinct top and bottom.  The bottom has two lighter colored 'racing stripes'.  The entire branch, twigs, and needles form a flat spray instead of a round bottle brush shape, although this can be less distinct in young trees.A balsam twig



Red Pine, or Norway Pine

Drawing of a red pine for identificationOur state tree, the red pine or Norway pine, is one of the large pines of our forests.  It has long, 2 to 4 inch needles in groups of two or three.  The cones are short and wide.  Bark on large trees is reddish and flakes into 'puzzle piece' shapes.  While beautiful, it is not recommended for Christmas trees because of slow regeneration.  Slow regeneration simply means the trees are slow to replace themselves after being cut, so harvesting a young tree as a short term Christmas decoration may not be its best use.A red pine twig



Black and white spruces

Drawing of a spruce for identificationBoth of our spruces, the black and the white spruce, are not the best choice for Christmas trees.  They have single, ungrouped needles which leave a distint bump on the twig when they fall off.  Unlike the flat needles of a balsam, a single spruce needle will roll between your fingers.  The needles on the twigs form a round bottle brush instead of a flat spray like a balsam.  Spruces often have dead branches at the bottom, and the branches often go all the way down the trunk to the ground.  There are three problems with bringing a spruce into your home for the holidays.  Some people complain that they have a distinct skunky aroma.  The short needles are quite sharp and prickly as you try to hang ornaments.  Lastly, spruces don't hold their needles for long after being cut.  They dry up quickly, and drop their needles all over your carpet.A spruce twig



White pine

Drawing of a white pine for identificationHarvesting white pine for Christmas trees is not allowed.  This large beautiful pine used to be a major component of the forest, but was reduced in number by turn of the century logging, an invasive disease called white pine blister rust, and heavy browsing of young trees by white tailed deer.  It is identified by its relatively long 1 to 2 inch needles in groups of five.  The needles are very soft and the appearance on the tree is almost feathery.  White pines have very long (4-6 inch) cones.  Please leave the white pine to grow and reproduce on the Forest.A white pine twig.




Drawing of a cedar for identificationHarvesting cedars for Christmas trees is not allowed.  Cedars are a very long lived species, some living into the their third or fouth century.  The young ones are subject to heavy browsing by deer, and unlike the large pines, both young and mature trees do not survive even less intensive forest fires.  Cedars are easily identified by the fact they do not have needles, they have scale like leaves instead.  They also have distinctive stringy bark, and seeds in capsules instead of cones.  Please leave the cedar to live out their long lives on the Forest.A cedar twig