Tree Traditions

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Whether delicate hand-blown glass bulbs adorn your tree or paper chain-link garland and felt angels with yarn hair, memories come alive as these keepsakes of our family histories are displayed. But, we seldom know much about the history of the tree itself.

These beloved symbols of life travel across the country from major Christmas tree producing states such as Oregon or North Carolina. On most farms they grow segregated by age and species. In this monoculture setting, trees require a host of pesticides to fend off insects, fungal pests, and weeds. According to Beyond Pesticides, nearly 40 different active ingredients are registered for tree production nationwide. Some of the most widely used pesticides for Christmas tree production in North Carolina are nervous systems toxins (disulfoton, dimethoate, Asana, Talstar) or linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (Roundup). According to the Forestry Department at Michigan State University, twenty-two herbicides (weed killers) are commonly used in Christmas tree production in Michigan, including Roundup and 2,4-D, which is linked to cancer in humans and dogs.

How can you make sure your tree is truly “green”? 

  • Avoid Fraser Firs. According to the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, “Of all the fir species grown…Fraser fir is the most susceptible to…pests” and therefore requires the heaviest use of pesticides.
  • Buy local. Michigan is one of the top eight Christmas tree producing states. Check local farmers’ markets or visit the farm in person.
  • Ask the farmer about his or her growing practices. Candy Cane Christmas Tree Farm in Oxford, MI mixes the varieties of trees, as well as the ages of the trees on a plot. According to owner, Cathy Genoves mixing species helps to prevent insect infestations. A variety of sizes in the field creates better air circulation, thus preventing fungal disease.
  • Consider the future of your tree. Take advantage of community programs that chip real trees into mulch after the holidays.

While an artificial tree may seem like an environmentally-friendly choice due to its reusability (and no need for pesticides), consider this:

  • Artificial trees are made from PVC (poly VINYL chloride), the production of which releases toxic emissions into the air.
  • 85% of artificial trees are manufactured in China.
  • Experiments on the synthetic needles reveal lead levels high enough to cause concern. The authors of a study published in the Journal for Environmental Health warn, “…families–especially families with older PVC Christmas trees, but even families with new ones–to thoroughly wash hands immediately after tree assembly and disassembly, and especially to limit the access of children to areas under erected trees. Direct mouthing contact, frequent branch handling, or both by young children would appear to have the potential for causing lead exposures of considerably greater health significance.”

The Michigan Christmas Tree Association reminds us that

  • For every tree harvested, up to 3 seedlings are planted in its place.
  • Real trees are a renewable, recyclable resource [and produce oxygen].
  • Over 100,000 people are employed full or part-time in the industry.

Celebrate the Season


Candy Cane Christmas Tree Farm, 4780 Seymour Lake Road, Oxford, 248-628-8899. (Go to website for coupon for $5 off each tree purchase).

Environmentally-friendly practices. Visit the farm to hand pick and cut your own tree. Also live, potted Christmas trees. Visit with Santa on the weekends.

Trim Pines Farm, 4357 E. Baldwin Road.  Holly, 810-694-9958.

Environmentally-verified farm by Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program. Choose-and-cut or ready-cut trees.  Santa Hayrides and horse-drawn hayrides, real reindeer and more.

Click Tree Traditions to download a printable pdf of this article.

Melissa Cooper Sargent

December 2010

Published on December 8, 2010