Written by: John Wayne Farber, Board Certified Master Arborist (BCMA) WI-0877B, Certified Treecare Safety Professional 01462
‘Tis the season of adorned evergreens and brilliant lights! At this time of year we see decorated trees inside and outside of homes in the U.S. and across the world, but why? For anyone not steeped in this tradition, it may seem odd that trees are cut only to become temporary residents in our homes. Did you know this ritual is ancient in origin, much older than Christmas or Christianity? In fact, there is record of evergreen boughs hung on houses for several thousands of years across many regions and civilizations. Connecting these traditions is the symbolic nature of something that is always green, even in the darkest days of the winter solstice.
A Symbol of Life for the Ages
Trees must endure winter just like us. (Read our article on how trees do this). The most ancient of trees are evergreens; broadleaf trees are a more recent evolutionary adaptation. Because evergreens have been around for millions of years, they have grown accustomed to surviving in all locations, including some of the coldest and harshest. Visually when the rest of the surroundings lose their color come fall, we can always count on evergreens to be constant and true. It is this concept that drew ancient cultures from Egyptians to Romans to Vikings to Celts to evergreens. You can always see the green in these trees as a sign of the season that once was and will be again. When it is cold and winter bears down, we all enjoy the reminder, embrace it, and celebrate it, that an evergreen is always the color of life, and soon our other surroundings will begin to grow anew. To keep this idea close ancient peoples began decorating their homes with this steadfast symbol and we continue to this day.
How Long Do Holiday Trees Take to Grow?
More than one million acres in the U.S. are devoted to growing holiday trees. They’re farmed in all 50 states, including Hawaii and Alaska. They take six to eight years to grow and are planted at 2,000 trees per acre, on average. This means the trees we buy this holiday season are not your average forest-grown tree. It is big business: there are nearly15,000 holiday tree farms in the U.S., and about 100,000 people work in the industry.
How Do Holiday Trees Get Their Shape?
The term holiday tree refers not to a type of tree but rather a specific pruning practice that is applied to many different species of trees, including but not limited to Scots pine, douglas fir, fraser fir, balsam fir, and white pine.
Tree farms manipulate growth to make trees appear fuller, which makes them more visually appealing and creates more places to hang decorations. Apical dominance is the term for a control mechanism in the tree regulated by the plant growth hormone auxin. This control hormone is created in the bud furthest out on the tip of the branch, known as the terminal bud. The hormone suppresses growth of all other subordinate buds along the same branch. When the tip of the branch is removed, auxin is no longer in control, allowing all the other buds break, elongate, and fill in the branch.
The season before harvesting, holiday tree farms remove the tips of all the new growth to create a fuller-looking tree. Lopping off a tree’s tips is not a recommended practice but since the tree will ultimately be cut down it works for this application. Want to dazzle your family and friends this holiday season? Ask them to look closely at your tree, then share just why the tips have been cut.
Evergreen trees are a wonderful reminder of eternal life. If it helps you cope with the cold of winter, celebrate your religion, or reminds you of a growing season to come, evergreens make a difference for us all. May your holidays be filled with trees, heritage and community, for with nature we find our unity.
Since 1972, Hoppe Tree Service has been taking care of people and their trees. Join us as we celebrate 50 years of service to great customers in southeastern Wisconsin.