Christmas

Christmas Tree Types: Which is Right for You & Your Quirky Ways

December 14, 2016

If you're celebrating Christmas this year, you might be considering the purchase of a tall, bristly conifer to dress up in a skirt and buttress with presents. Despite it being an altogether bizarre (and messy) tradition, there's something unfailingly uplifting about a tree's sappy smell and twinkly disposition. A welcome stranger visiting for Advent season.

The easiest way to go about getting a Christmas tree is to visit one of the vendors that's suddenly appeared in your neighborhood this time of year and snatch up the cutest one they've got. But if you'd like to be more specific—if you like the idea of finding a tree that really says you—enjoy this roundup of Christmas tree types, organized by your (possible) priorities.

Note: I've populated the list below with some common varietals—but there are many more types of fir, pine, spruce, cypress, and cedar trees that will fit the Christmas Tree bill (and yes, they're all different)! To better understand their characteristics, I largely consulted the USDA Forestry Service, but also the National Christmas Tree Association and retailers like Home Depot.


I want the soft-looking one food52 always uses

That, pictured above, would be a Norfolk Island Pine. Technically, it's not a "true pine," being part of the Araucaria genus rather than the Pinus—but its looks might convince you otherwise. (We love how whimsical it appears in photos!)

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Top Comment:
“Whoops, you put the balsam fir in the northwest. Looks like a typo. In general, I go with firs. I had a redwood once, which was kind of fun. And a cedar that was beautiful and fragrant, but I'd broken out in little itchy bumps before I finished with the lights. And the tallest possible!”
— Greenstuff
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In actuality, the Norfolk Pine (as it is also called) is a tropical evergreen with a natural habitat off the coast of Australia, where it can grow hundreds of feet tall. But they're also cultivated as houseplants all over, so it's not impossible to track one down to act as a Christmas tree this time of year.

A Norfolk Pine, popping up in our photography.

Where it's local: Tropical places, but also southern Florida and coastal California in the U.S. (however, they're cultivated allover especially for holiday use, so just ask your local nursery.)


i want a color other than green

A slow-growing tree (with specimens found to be as old as 600 years), Colorado's famed Blue Spruce is prized for the grey-blue complexion of its needles (which can be so blue as to borderline on teal!) Its branches can be brittle (that is, not the best for tons of ornamentation), but you wouldn't want to cover them up anyway—this tree is best propped up in simple white lights that highlight its color.

A particularly frosty looking Blue Spruce. Photo by Creative Commons

Where it's local: Central and southern Rocky Mountains: Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico.


I like a No-Frills, Super Classic Tree

The common but ever-reliable Douglas Fir—with its soft, dark green branches—is never a bad choice. They tend to be very dense, with needles that stick out in all directions from lots of small branches, but the result is a very classically Christmas-y tree. (They're pruned over the course of 7-ish year lives to have tapered, pyramidal tops.)

If you're buying one from a farm and prefer an airier look, they'll probably be able to shear it down slightly to let some air in.

Photo by USDA via Creative Commons

Where it's local: Native to the northwesternmost part of the states—throughout Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and coastal northern California—the Douglas Fir has, according to the USDA Forest Service, yet to be successfully cultivated outside of its natural habitat.


A Little Fancier, Please?

With it's upturned, fluffy branches and pleasing scent, Fraser Firs are often more expensive than other firs at the Christmas Tree stand (I've seen them called the "Cadillac" of Christmas trees).

That's because, in addition to being very attractive, they basically last forever in holiday terms: up to six weeks, in some cases. Plus, their perky branches bend just the right amount under standard ornament weight. And, and, they smell delightful. The whole kit-and-kaboodle.

Where it's local: The Southeast and Appalachia.


cleaning up pine needles is my hell

The frosty-colored Blue Spruce, introduced above, is known for its excellent needle tradition. But if you're looking for a more lively bright green color and good needle retention, a Scotch Pine (or Scots Pine) has inch-long needles that (supposedly) don't drop off at all—even when they're dried. (They're also known for growing well in droughty areas, so perhaps that's why.)

It's also going to be easy to find one: The Scotch Pine is the most widely-planted pine tree in the U.S.

Photo by Creative Commons

Where it's local: Native to Europe and Asia, but now widely cultivated all over the U.S.


I want my home to smell like a forest

Known for being especially fragrant, a Balsam Fir will make your whole home feel like winter blew through. (In case you're wondering, it's because they're rich in bornyl acetate, which is described as smelling of "balsamic.")

Photo by Creative Commons

If you're at a tree farm that's without one of these delicious-smelling types, err towards a pine, cedar, or hemlock, which retain their scents best. And steer clear of spruces, which many think have an offputting odor.

Where it's local: the Northeast and Great Lakes.


my favorite ornaments weigh a pound each

Dark green and usually symmetrical, a White Spruce (also known as a Black Hills Spruce) is known for having short, stiff branches that can withstand the weight of fist-sized silver bells, porcelain baubles, and any other overly-weighty ornamentation you choose. It's one of the hardiest conifers out there (and the state tree of South Dakota), which is perhaps why it's so well-equipped.

Christmas spruce just needs a 🌟

A photo posted by Jill (@sunmachawaii) on

Where it's local: Parts of Canada, Minnesota, Wisconsin, central Michigan, northeastern New York, Maine, Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota.

What's your favorite Christmas tree type? Stake your claim in the comments.

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7 Comments

Greenstuff December 14, 2016
Whoops, you put the balsam fir in the northwest. Looks like a typo.<br /><br />In general, I go with firs. I had a redwood once, which was kind of fun. And a cedar that was beautiful and fragrant, but I'd broken out in little itchy bumps before I finished with the lights. And the tallest possible!
 
Author Comment
Amanda S. December 15, 2016
Right you are! Thanks for catching that; fixed above. (A redwood! That's so fun.)
 
HelloThereNicole December 14, 2016
What? No noble fir? I live in the PNW and the noble fir is hands down my fave, it has a great smell and a really pretty upturned needle structure, and a similar shape to the douglas fir.
 
Author Comment
Amanda S. December 15, 2016
It sounds like a winner!
 
PHIL December 14, 2016
I used to sell Christmas trees. Balsam and Fraser are the best trees at least in the NYC metro area in my opinion.
 
AntoniaJames December 14, 2016
Silver tips, only. All that open space between the branches lets you actually see your ornaments - such a clean, elegant look. Besides being so statuesque, they smell gorgeous, too. ;o)
 
Author Comment
Amanda S. December 15, 2016
Ooh, I hadn't seen one of these before (or realized what I was looking at)—they're lovely.