Saturday, December 13, 2008

Fraser Fir Tree Farm in North Carolina

We passed this tree farm on the Shortia collecting trip this summer. I took the picture as we drove back from Panthertown Valley; I would guess that the tree farm ran for something like two miles starting at the road and varying in width from half a mile to a mile. All of these trees are Fraser Firs, a species native to the higher elevations of the Southern Appalachians.

When I was young, in the 1950s and 60s, the commonest Christmas trees were Balsam Firs, and Scotch Pines. Christmas tree growers are far more sophisticated than they were 50 years ago and most of the trees are sheared. That means that the Balsams, that have a nicer smell than the Frasers, now are thick dense trees. The Balsams I remember were Charlie Brown types. So open it seemed as if you could almost throw a football through a tree without touching a branch. Good for hanging a few ornaments. They never held their leaves very well but they did smell good. Scotch Pines, like most pines, are attractive trees that hold their needles well but often have yellowing needles and don't present any easy places to suspend pendant ornaments. If you see a tree sprayed an unnatural shade of green it is probably a chlorotic Scotch Pine.

When you work at a retail nursery, come December you sell Christmas trees. That's what's happening in December. When I was at Behnke's I sold Christmas trees a few years. It was pleasant work; the trees smelled good and the customers were, by and large, cheery. The aroma of Douglas Firs is the best....sort of citrusy, but they weren't designed for hanging ornaments. Fraser Firs are the best all around trees, and it seems to me without doing research, the best sellers. They hold their needles well, have a nice shape, and have branches strong enough and spaced far enough apart to easily support fairly heavy ornaments. Noble Firs are the model for top of the line artificial trees and they are beautiful, but they have no smell, excepting, occasionally, a foetid stench that rises from the water reserve after a week or so. We almost always choose a Fraser, but I was often tempted to cut the top 4 feet out of a Douglas Fir (after we closed on Christmas Eve) and set it up as an ornamentless, just for the smell. I never did it but it would have been a good idea.

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