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Howto Buy a
By Charles C. Littleton, Marketing Specialist,
Fruit and Vegetable Division,
Agricultural Marketing Service.
The tradition of a decorated Christmas tree
in the United States may date back to the Revo-
lutionary War, when homesick Hessian troops
cut and decorated fir trees as was their German
Since then, the Christmas tree-with its forest
fragrance and freshness-has come to represent
the Yule season. It is the mainstay of both indoor
and outdoor holiday decorations.
Today, selecting the perfect Christmas tree is
one of the highlights of many families' pre-
holiday preparations. Choosing a tree that is
"just right" for you will be easier if you know
what species you are looking for, the different
features that indicate a good tree, and how to
select and maintain freshness.
Practically all species of evergreens are used
for Christmas trees, although some are more
popular and are in greater supply than others.
No one species can be considered the best all-
round Christmas tree, for each has its own indi-
vidual characteristics. Although people in some
areas of the country have a preference for a cer-
tain species, there are five that are most widely
grown and sold. Each one is not available to con-
sumers in every part of the country.
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The Balsam fir has short, flat dark green
needles, usually rounded at the tips. The needles
are arranged feather-like on grayish, finely hairy
twigs. The tiny twigs grow at right angles to
each branch, resembling crosses (perhaps a rea-
son for their popularity at Christmas), and the
rounded bud tips are coated with a waxy pitch.
When cones are present on the Balsam fir,
they are attached upright to the branch and are
2 to 3 inches long. They are purple and often
The bark of the Balsam fir is gray or brown,
thin and quite smooth-often with many resin
Note: Sketches of trees were provided by the Forest
Another short needled fir, the Douglas fir has
needles that are attached around the twig in-
stead of in the feather-like arrangement of the
The needles are short-stalked, soft and pliable
and are dark yellow-green or blue-green.
While most true fir trees have rounded blunt
buds, as you will find in the Balsam fir, the
Douglas has reddish-brown buds that narrow at
the tip into a sharp point.
The cones make identification of the Douglas
fir very easy, for they hang downward with long
3-toothed leaf-like bracts sticking out conspicu-
ously beyond the tips of the thin, rounded cone
scales. These light brown cones are from 2 to 4
The bark of the tree is dark or reddish brown.
It usually is easy to identify an Eastern Red-
cedar because its characteristics are so different
from the other Christmas tree species. The Red-
cedar has extremely short, dark blue-green, scale-
However, the leading shoots bear needle-like
leaves almost half an inch long and the leafy
twigs are rounded or four-angled and slender.
Like its western cousin, the juniper, the Red-
cedar bears berry-like fruit. The small round
berries are dark blue and the bark of the tree
is reddish-brown and fibrous.
The Scotch Pine, a very fast growing tree, has
needles longer than the Balsam and Douglas
firs. The needles grow in clusters of two and
are dark blue-green in color, usually twisted,
and from 12 to 21/2 inches long. However,
within the past several years several varieties
have been produced with shorter needles.
With proper pruning and trimming the Scotch
pine can be made very bushy, which is a de-
sirable characteristic for a Christmas tree. It
is a very popular tree partly because it holds its
needles longer than most others.
The Scotch Pine has cones between two and
five inches long. The top of the scales are flat
with a slender prickle.
The bark is scaly and bright orange-red, but
somewhat darker on older trees.
Both eastern and western White Pines are
very much alike, with silvery blue-green needles
that are soft to the touch.
The very slender Eastern pine needles are
quite long-2/2 to 5 inches-and are grouped
together in clusters of five. The needles of the
western White Pine are shorter and stouter.
The eastern White Pine has long stalked,
yellow-brown cones with thin round scales. The
cones of the western variety are very similar, but
The thin, smooth bark of both species is
grayish green to dark green.
Over a decade ago, the Agricultural Market-
ing Service of the U.S. Department of Agricul-
ture established voluntary standards of quality
for Christmas trees.
In selecting just the right tree for decorating,
most people look for a tree that is healthy, free
from damage, and well-trimmed. They generally
want a tree that tapers gently from a fu!l bottom
and has an ample number of branches for hang-
Trees meeting a U.S. grade will have these
characteristics, since the grade standards re-
quire that the trees be:
Fresh-with pliable needles that are firmly at-
tached to the branches.
Clean-practically free from vines or other
undesirable foreign material.
Healthy-fresh, natural appearance for par-
Well-trimmed-free of all barren branches
below the first whorl of foliated branches and
smoothly cut at the butt.
In addition, the specific requirements of each
U.S. Premium: not less than medium density,
normal taper, and all four faces (sides) free from
any type of damage.
U.S. No. 1 or U.S. Choice: not less than me-
dium density, normal taper, and three damage-
U.S. No. 2 or U.S. Standard: light or better
density; candlestick, normal, or flaring taper; and
at least two adjacent damage-free faces.
Although these voluntary standards are used
mainly by the wholesale trade, they can be used
with good results by anyone to determine the
quality of a tree. Premium or U.S. No. 1 grades
mean high quality. Even a U.S. No. 2 tree, placed
in a corner with its "good" faces toward the
room, may be very attractive.
40% 70%o 90%
TAPER TAPER TAPER
Christmas Tree Taper
The percent taper means the relationship of the
width of the tree to its height. For example, 70
percent taper means the width is 70 percent of
less than 40% ...... Candlestick
40-90% ... .. Normal
more than 90% ....... Flaring
Selecting a Tree
A few simple procedures can make the selec-
tion of a "perfect" Christmas tree easier.
* Determine where in your home you will dis-
play your tree. With this in mind, you will be
able to tell what height you will need and
whether all four sides must be suitable for dis-
* You should select a tree that is the right height
for the space you have chosen for it. Cutting
large portions off either end will alter the natural
taper of the tree.
* Freshness is an important key when selecting
your tree. The needles should be resilient, but
not brittle. Run your finger down a branch-the
needles should adhere to each twig.
* Shake or bounce the tree on the ground lightly
to see that the needles are firmly attached. If
only a few drop off, the tree is fresh and with
proper care should retain its freshness indoors
throughout the holiday season.
* The limbs should be strong enough to hold
ornaments and strings of electric lights and the
tree should have a strong fragrance and good
green color for the species.
* Check the tree for freshness, cleanness,
health, and trimming and be sure it displays the
best qualities for the particular species.
Following these steps should insure a healthy,
attractive tree, but the care of your tree does not
Christmas Tree Care
* If you buy your tree several days before it will
be set up and decorated, store it outside. Cut the
butt of the tree at a diagonal about one inch
above the original cut-this open the pores and
aids in the absorption of water. Place the butt
end in a container of water.
* When you bring it into the house, saw the
butt again, squaring off the diagonal. This fa-
cilitates placing the tree in a stand as well as
* Keep the butt end of the tree in a container
of water the entire time it is in the house. Refill
the container daily as the tree requires a lot of
water. Sprinkling water on the branches and
needles before you decorate the tree will help
* Be sure that the base of the tree is well-
supported and the tree is placed away from fire-
places, radiators, electric heaters, televisions or
any other source of heat.
* Open flames, such as lighted candles, should
never be used on or near the tree. In addition,
never leave your home with the Christmas tree
lights still on.
* The longer the tree is indoors, the more com-
bustible it will become. Check electric light
cords for fraying and worn spots that could
easily lead to fires. Also do not overload the
electric circuits and avoid placing electric toys
directly under the tree. Be sure to avoid the use
of combustible decorations.
Following these care and precaution measures
should insure an attractive tree that stays fresh
indoors for more than a week and a holiday
season free from Christmas tree mishaps.
'* U.S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE : 1976--0-224-288
For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office
Washington, D.C. 20402
Price 35 cents; 25% discount allowed on orders of 100 or more to one address
Stock No. 001-000-03631-9
There is a minimum charge of $1.00 for each mail order
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
IIIIIIIIii 1111 1111111IIII 7II I111111111
3 1262 08582 9728
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LOOK FOR QUALITY
BE SURE OF
Firm needles-not brittle
Good green color for species
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