Christmas trees come in different varieties. Knowing the differences can make the selection process easier.
“Some of the most commonly sold varieties of Christmas trees are balsam fir, Fraser fir, Scotch pine and white pine,” said Ron Wolford. “Each type has unique tree needle retention, color and fragrance.”
Wolford provided the following information about Christmas tree varieties. Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea) has short, flat, long-lasting needles that are rounded at the tip; nice, dark green color with silvery cast and fragrance. It is named for the balsam or resin found in blisters on bark. Resin is used to make microscope slides and was sold like chewing gum; it was used to treat wounds in the Civil War.
Canaan Fir (Abies balsamea var. phanerolepis) has soft, short, bluish to dark green needles that silver on the underside. Its strong branches and open growing pattern provide good needle retention and fragrance.
Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) has good fragrance; holds blue to dark green; the needles have one of the best aromas among Christmas trees when crushed; branches are spreading and drooping. After being cut, the Douglas fir will last three to four weeks. Named after David Douglas, who studied the tree in the 1800s; good conical shape; can live for 1,000 years.
Fraser Fir (Abies fraseri) has dark green, flattened needles; good needle retention; nice scent; pyramid shaped, strong branches that turn upward. The Fraser fir was named for botanist John Fraser, who explored the southern Appalachians in the late 1700s.
Grand Fir (Adies grandis) has shiny, dark green needles. When crushed, the needles give off a citrusy smell. Grand fir will last 3 to 4 weeks after being cut.
Noble Fir (Abies procera) has blue-green needles with a silvery appearance; short, stiff branches; great for heavier ornaments; keeps well; is used to make wreaths, door swags and garlands. With good care, the tree will last for six weeks after being cut.
Concolor Fir (Abies concolor) has blue-green needles and a citrus scent; good needle retention. In nature, the concolor fir can live up to 350 years.
Austrian Fir (Pinus nigra) has dark green needles, 4 to 6 inches long; retains needles well; moderate fragrance.
Red Pine (Pinus resinosa) has dark green needles, 4 to 6 inches long; big and bushy.
Scotch Pine (Pinus sylvestris) is the most common Christmas tree variety; stiff branches hold heavy ornaments well; stiff, dark green needles are 1 inch long; holds needles for four weeks; needles will stay on even when dry; has open appearance and more room for ornaments; keeps aroma throughout the season; introduced into the United States by European settlers.
Virginia Pine (Pinus virginiana) has dark green needles 1 ½ to 3 inches long in twisted pairs; strong branches enable it to hold heavy ornaments; strong aromatic pine scent; a popular southern Christmas tree.
White Pine (Pinus strobus) has soft, blue-green needles, 2 to 5 inches long in bundles of five; retains needles throughout the holiday season; very full appearance; little or no fragrance; less allergic reactions when compared to more fragrant trees; doesn’t hold heavy ornaments well. It is the largest pine tree in the United States and the state tree of Michigan and Maine; slender branches will support fewer and smaller decorations as compared to Scotch pine.
Black Hills Spruce (Pinus glauca var.densata) has green to blue-green needles; stiff needles may be difficult to handle with small children.
Blue Spruce (Picea pungens) is dark green to powdery blue; good form; will drop needles in a warm room; symmetrical; but is best among species for needle retention; branches are stiff and will support many heavy decorations. The blue spruce is the state tree of Utah and Colorado and can live in nature 600 to 800 years.
Norway Spruce (Picea abies) has needles 1/2 to 1 inch long and are a shiny, dark green. The needle retention is poor without proper care; strong fragrance; nice conical shape. The Norway spruce is very popular in Europe.
White Spruce (Picea glauca) has needles ½ to ¾ inch long that are green to blue-green, short, and stiff; crushed needles have an unpleasant odor; good needle retention. The White spruce is the state tree of South Dakota.
For more information, visit www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/trees.