Every year, millions of Americans purchase and decorate Christmas trees to ring in the holiday season. Whether they are bought at a lawn and garden store or a pop-up lot or harvested from a tree farm or a national forest, a live tree is an integral part of the tradition for many families.
Before the 1930s, Christmas trees typically were cut down on an individual’s property or out in the wild. Now, tree farms in all 50 states (yes, Hawaii too) are where most Christmas trees come from, accounting for 98 percent of live Christmas trees brought into homes. These farms churn out many kinds of conifers, but two main regions — Clackamas County near Portland, Ore., and the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina — produce the most.
The most common Christmas trees are the noble fir on the West Coast, primarily grown in Oregon and Washington, and the Fraser fir on the East Coast, primarily grown in North Carolina. North Carolina produces trees that are exported up and down the East Coast all the way to the Mississippi, and Oregon and Washington produce trees that are shipped around the West Coast. In the Great Lakes and the Southeast, many of the trees grown remain in the region.
Before tree farms, Christmas trees were more characteristic of the conifers of each region. People cut pines and cedars in the South, Frasier firs along the East Coast, and in the Northeast near Maine the native Balsam fir. Moving west to the Great Lakes, Scotch pines and spruces were favorites, and in the Rocky Mountains and on the West Coast, fir trees were often the favorites to cut down.
“Every part of the country has had its favorite conifer. And today, people in those parts of the nation still prefer those trees*,”* according to Doug Hundley, the seasonal spokesman for the National Christmas Tree Association. “It gives us some more traditional view of Christmas trees and people, and the nation’s relationship with Christmas trees.”
When choosing your own live Christmas tree, many options are available to conifer shoppers. In 2018, 28 percent of trees were bought at chain stores, but an equal 28 percent at “choose-and-cut” farms where people can select and cut down their own tree on a farm.
In the Western United States, a number of national forests in Oregon, Washington, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado sell permits that allow people the opportunity to cut down their own Christmas tree in the wild, “Christmas Vacation”-style. (However, pulling a tree out by its roots is against the law).
Groves of Christmas trees stand last week in a snow-covered field at Beverly Tree Farm in Beverly, Mass. (Joseph Prezioso/Afp Via Getty Images)
Whether you opt for a live or artificial tree to decorate your home, a few famous trees are always real. This year’s Rockefeller Center tree came from Florida, N.Y., and has almost always come from New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey or Connecticut. The Rockefeller tree does not come from a tree farm but instead private property or U.S. Forest Service land.
In Washington, D.C., the National Christmas Tree is a live tree that grows in front of the White House year-round, transplanted from Pennsylvania this year. Since 1973, the National Christmas Tree has been a living tree cared for by the National Park Service.
The tree featured in the Blue Room of the White House is the result of a lengthy competition among regional and state Christmas tree organizations and then to a national competition, which results in the winning conifer gracing the famed space. Many state government offices have conifers native to their regions furnishing those buildings for the holidays.
The 2019 Capitol Christmas Tree cutting ceremony took place Nov. 6 at Red River, N.M. This year tree is a 60-foot-tall blue spruce. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal via AP)
The Capitol Christmas Tree is cut down every year from different parts of the country. This year’s tree is from Carson National Forest in New Mexico, and it is decorated with handcrafted ornaments from the people of New Mexico. Annually, a ceremony is held at both the tree-cutting site and on the West Lawn of the Capitol, where the tree is lit.
Both trees in the nation’s capital will be alight through Jan. 1. For your own tree, keep it lit as long as you want (but don’t let it become a fire hazard).