PINING FOR THE REAL THING

NOTHING quite defines the Christmas tragics like the decision to fake it or cut it. Talking Christmas trees here.

And for years I was in the curled-lip  “as if”’ camp when asked if our tree was one that stored away from year to year. “You mean an ARTIFICIAL tree? ”I’d sneer when it was suggested I’d have anything but the real McCoy –  pine-smelling, needle dropping and misshapen though they were.

I thought having a REAL Christmas tree was as sacred as the feast itself, poor misguided, pompous me. So year in year out, we trudged with our kids to the local state pine forest and duly selected and chopped a “thinning”  – what looked in the open like a “perfect” shaped tree. But on reaching our living room, it had branches that were too irregular to hold the lights and tinsel with any symmetry and sloped downwards so all the ornaments slipped off, tangled and smashed. And our ” real deal” would never stand straight and true in the bucket of bricks we plonked it in, so by Christmas morning, our snobby obsession with authenticity meant we had a messy,  shedding, sap-bleeding, leaning, almost nude Christmas tree, propped in the corner of the lounge, precariously held upright by string and pulley tied to the  window handle.

We couldn’t close the window without collapsing the tree, so hoped for an absence of summer storms that blew and sprayed rain from the south through the screen. Anyone reaching for a wrapped gift under the boughs of this fragile set-up and who bumped it in the process risked toppling it to the floor,  probably suffering concussion or facial lacerations from shattered glass balls, so it had to be erected again with all the painstaking balancing, redressing to follow. Merry Christmas   –  NOT!

But, boy it smelled nice! That was the mantra we recited  every time someone visited. We’d echo it smugly and self-congratulate as friends walked in and inhaled. “ Oh yes. There’s nothing like a real tree at Christmas….”

Here’s where I depart from most gardeners’  creed.

Actually  –   there is something better. It’s plastic, or acrylic and regular shaped, balanced, upright and sometimes even comes with attached lights that NEVER fall off or clump up in one spot. It folds away in a compact box every year and is put up in the time it takes to sharpen the axe used on a “real” tree.

It does the job, carries the symbolism of the occasion and no carbon is taken from the atmosphere in the process. I’ve “come out” with this Christmas tree stuff. I am now the owner of a flat-pack green-bristled plastic tree. It’s like IKEA brilliance without the Allen key. You shake it upright in about 30 seconds and in another minute  when the power is connected, the lights are blinking. It is symmetrical and pleasing to the eye and its sturdy cross-stand withstands all bumps that our army of Christmas visitors can throw at it. It’s an artificial tree and I reject inferences that it’s not quite as “good” as the green.

Real trees are for the garden, the paddocks and the fields. Christmas is for tizz, tinsel, baubles and showy bling, so let’s not inflict that on a dignified flora specimen. Let’s embrace the plastic, acrylic, wooden whatever  ..that you erect and gather your loved ones around this season.

I was always mightily impressed with the majestic Douglas firs and cypresses the northern hemisphere, cold-climate countries boast for their yuletide tree.  Summertime Australia is an odd backdrop for bushy alpine trees that dominate living rooms across the country. But tradition is a powerful force and there won’t be many families without a Christmas tree this year.  Australian trees have usually not had the shape and density for the picture postcard Christmas look, usually presenting more scraggly than stately.

A Daintree specimen that would make a good native Christmas tree

A Daintree specimen that would make a good native Christmas tree

Some  buy a tree that’s used indoors for Christmas decoration and kept in a pot to be re-used every year or later planted out for landscaping. This trend is popular with people who like to watch their tree grow with their family and see it as a reminder of special Christmas occasions. An ideal specimen for this is the Wollemi  pine. It has been hailed by horticulturists as the perfect

Stlised glass Christmas tree  in China - one that definitely won't droop

Stylised glass Christmas tree in China – one that definitely won’t droop

Christmas tree, as it has a natural conical shape and very flexible
leaves that can support Christmas decorations. A large 1.5m to 2m Wollemi pine can also be kept in a pot if kept in the partial shade. When it’s not the family Christmas tree, it makes a fantastic patio or indoor plant. There are also the Bunya pine and Hoop pine. Some of the Callitris species might be more suitable for long term pot culture or use in the the ground and in the years to come, perhaps some of the other lesser-known Australian native gymnosperms. There are also the familiar Casuarina and Allocasuarina trees commonly known as she-oaks. Less familiar is Gymnostoma australianum from the Daintree rainforest of North Queensland.

Wollemi is a good Aussie tub Christmas tree specimen

Wollemi is a good Aussie tub Christmas tree specimen

It has a conifer-like appearance and is available in garden centres. While the foliage of lillypilles isn’t particularly like that of conifers, the  genus Syzygium and its close relative,  nevertheless has many Christmas tree candidates. Upright, symmetrical  Lillypilly makes a good Christmas tree

Upright, symmetrical Lillypilly makes a good Christmas tree

There are many on the market to choose from. Disfiguring leaf psyllids are an issue with some lilly pillies, as they spoil the look of the tree, so pick a resistant species/variety.  Some have a greater natural tendency to upright growth and a conical shape than others.  The lillypilly at left already shows a natural tendency to conical growth, which could be further enhanced by pruning.

Sometimes plants are pruned before sale, but if you want an upright plant, look for an apical leader. Prune to shape and to encourage bushiness and maintain healthy and prolific foliage with sufficient water and fertiliser.  Dwarf forms will be best for keeping in containers long-term. Rotate the pots regularly to get even growth on all sides.

My Christmas tree memories from childhood are of spindly casuarinas,  spikey  radiata pines and scratchy Norfolk Island pines stooping under the tinsel and stars in our lounge room. But truthfully, I paid scant attention to the type of tree we put up each Christmas, focussing instead on what was UNDER it with my name on it.

So, alas, for a passionate  gardener, I am a revelling in the ease and tidiness of a “not” real Christmas tree in our house.

But I am relishing the other aspects of Christmas bursting into flower outside. Like the dazzling poinciana tree and the glorious New Zealand Christmas tree, the pohutukawa.

And mindful of the cherished history of “trimming a tree” this season, I proffer these Christmas tree facts below.

And I wish you a very happy and safe Christmas season and holiday time and joy in your garden.

  • The use of evergreen trees to celebrate the winter season occurred before the birth of Christ.
  • The first decorated Christmas tree was in Riga, Latvia in 1510.
  • The first printed reference to Christmas trees appeared in Germany in 1531.
  • Besides evergreens, other types of trees such as cherry and hawthorns were used as Christmas trees in the past.
  • The decorated Christmas tree can be traced back to the ancient Romans who during their winter festival decorated trees with small pieces of metal during Saturnalia, a winter festival in honor of Saturnus, the god of agriculture.
  • An evergreen, the Paradise tree, was decorated with apples as a symbol of the feast of Adam and Eve held on December 24th during the middle ages.
  • Christmas trees were sold in Alsace in 1531. Alsace was at that time a part of Germany. Today it is part of France. The trees were sold at local markets and set up in homes undecorated.
  • In the Ammerschweier in Alsace there was an ordinance that stated no person “shall have for Christmas more than one bush of more than eight shoe lengths.”
  • Sixteenth century folklore credited Martin Luther as being the first to decorate an indoor tree. After a walk through a forest of evergreens with shining stars overhead, Luther tried to describe the experience to his family and showed them by bringing a tree into their home and decorating it with candles. Some historians state that the first evidence of a lighted tree appeared more than a century after Martin Luther’s death in 1546.
  • The oldest record of a decorated Christmas tree came from a 1605 diary found in Strasburg, France (Germany in 1605). The tree was decorated with paper roses, apples and candies.
  • In Austria & Germany during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the tops of evergreens were cut and hung upside down in a living room corner. They were decorated with apples, nuts and strips of red paper.The first record of Christmas trees in America was for children in the German Moravian Church’s settlement in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Christmas 1747. Actual trees were not decorated, but wooden pyramids covered with evergreen branches were decorated with candles.
  • The custom of the Christmas tree was introduced in the United States during the War of Independence by Hessian troops. An early account tells of a Christmas tree set up by American soldiers at Fort Dearborn, Illinois, the site of Chicago, in 1804. Most other early accounts in the United States were among the German settlers in eastern Pennsylvania.
  • In 1834, Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, was credited with bringing the first Christmas tree to Windsor Castle for the Royal Family. Some historians state that in actuality Queen Charlotte, Victoria’s grandmother, recalled that a Christmas tree was in the Queen’s lodge at Windsor on Christmas Day in 1800.
  • Charles Minnegrode introduced the custom of decorating trees in Williamsburg, Virginia in 1842.
  • By 1850, the Christmas tree had become fashionable in the eastern states. Until this time, it had been considered a quaint foreign custom.
  • Mark Carr brought trees from the Catskills to the streets of New York in 1851, and opened the first retail Christmas tree lot in the United States.

    Beauty of the New Zealand Christmas tree (pohutukawa ) in seasonal flourish

    Beauty of the New Zealand Christmas tree (pohutukawa ) in seasonal flourish

  • Franklin Pierce was the first president to introduce the Christmas tree to the White House in 1856 for a group of Washington Sunday School children. The first national Christmas Tree was lighted in the year 1923 on the White House lawn by President Calvin Coolidge.
  •  93% of real Christmas tree consumers recycle their tree in community recycling programs, their garden or backyard.
  • Recycled real Christmas trees have been used to make sand and soil erosion barriers and been placed in ponds for fish shelter.
  • Growing Christmas trees provides a habitat for wildlife.
  • Christmas trees can remove dust and pollen from the air.
  • Cook County, Illinois uses old Christmas trees to rebuild housing structures for natural wildlife that has been destroyed through development.
  • Artificial trees will last for six years in your home, but for centuries in a landfill.
  • An acre of Christmas trees provides the daily oxygen requirements of 18 people.
    My poinciana tree in Christmas  bloom

    My poinciana tree in Christmas bloom

    You shouldn’t burn your Christmas tree in the fireplace; it can contribute to creosote buildup.

  • Live Christmas trees are involved in less than one-tenth of one percent of residential fires, and mostly when ignited by some external ignition sources. The major factors involved in Christmas tree fires are electrical problems, decorative lights, candles, and a heat source too close to the tree.
  • In 1971 the US government concluded that Christmas tree tinsel made of lead was a health risk and convinced manufacturers to voluntarily stop producing it.  It is now made of plastic
  • Using small candles to light a Christmas tree dates back to the middle of the 17th century.
  • Thomas Edison’s assistant, Edward Johnson, came up with the idea of electric lights for Christmas trees in 1882. Christmas tree lights were first mass-produced in 1890.
  • In 1900, large stores started to erect big illuminated Christmas trees.
  • The tradition of an official Chicago Christmas tree was initiated in 1913 when one was first lit by Mayor Carter H. Harrison in Grant Park.
  • The official Christmas tree tradition at Rockefeller Center began in 1933. Since 2004 the tree has been topped with a 550-pound Swarovski Crystal star. And since 2007, the tree has been lit with 30,000 energy-efficient LED’s which are powered by solar panels.
  • Every year since 1947, the people of Oslo, Norway have given a Christmas tree to the city of Westminster, England. The gift is an expression of good will and gratitude for Britain’s help to Norway during World War II.
  • Since 1971, the Province of Nova Scotia has presented the Boston Christmas tree to the people of Boston, in gratitude for the relief supplies received from the citizens of Boston after a ship exploded in 1917 following a collision in the Halifax, Nova Scotia Harbor. Part of the city was leveled, killing and injuring thousands.
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3 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    amsoliman said,

    Now that is a story I can really relate too!! I love my cute little tree though I think I’ll have to get a larger one. We accumulate so many cute new decorations each year that my little tree is quite bowed down!

  2. 2

    peter connolly said,

    Julie, hi. A good story, well told. Doesn’t your poinciana look magnificent ? Our Myers tree has served us well now for twenty-seven years, pleased to say.It’s set up again for another Christmas. love pete

    Date: Sun, 9 Dec 2012 12:53:07 +0000 To: fishconnolly@hotmail.com

  3. 3

    Deon Newbury said,

    What’s Happening i’m new to this, I stumbled upon this I’ve found It absolutely helpful
    and it has aided me out loads. I hope to contribute & assist other users like its aided me.
    Great job.


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