This article written in collaboration with the National Christmas Tree Association and Sarah C. Gracey, Kentucky urban forestry coordinator.
If you have been around me at all during the holidays, you will know I am a fan of real Christmas trees (I am also a fan of not putting up the tree until Santa’s toy factory is in high gear and almost ready to pack the sleigh). I grew up going to tree farms and selecting our tree as part of our family tradition. While it is still great to visit local tree farmers, Kentucky Christmas Treesanother option is to buy a cut tree from an American tree farmer. Yes, real holiday trees are grown on family owned tree farms. If that isn’t enough reason for you to consider giving up your non recyclable plastic “tree” from overseas, let’s look at the biggest myths about holiday trees. Wherever you find your tree - on a farm, in a store or a natural cedar like I will have this year, I hope you will consider a real tree.
Photo - It was 1984 and another successful tree hunt with Dad.
Myth 1: Real trees are cut down from forests. While the US Forest Service allows a very small number of permits to cut wild trees (to allow for fire breaks), trees are grown on a farm, just like any other agricultural crop.
Myth 2: You save a tree by using a fake tree. Because these trees are grown as a crop, you are buying a harvested product grown for this purpose. In fact, fake trees are shipped in cardboard boxes (a forest product) and are non- recyclable, so you aren’t saving anything by using one.
Myth 3: Real trees aggravate allergies. Evergreen pollen is not a known allergen causer. Of the tens of thousands of tree species, less than 100 are known to cause allergies and only a few of these are conifers. Even if a tree was an aggravator, it is unlikely to produce pollen in December. If you are sensitive to allergies it is not a bad idea to hose down your real tree before bringing indoors, because of course, it could have collected dust and pollen while growing. Also, note if you are sensitive to these things anyway, a plastic tree over years will continue to collect dust and molds as well. Google the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology for ideas on how to prevent holiday allergies.
Myth 4: Fake trees are better because you can re-use them. At some point, a fake tree will end up in a landfill where it is not biodegrade, it makes a very unfriendly option for the Earth. Most fake trees are used only six to nine years before being thrown away.
Myth 5: Christmas trees are a fire safety hazard. The reality is that the chances of a real tree being accidentally ignited are extremely rare. Keep your tree freshly watered every day, use new lower heat LED lights on them and keep open flames away from them.
Myth 6: Real trees cost too much. In Kentucky, most trees cost between $20 and $45 for locally grown trees and in that same range for trees shipped from other states. If I spend $25 on a tree each year, and a plastic tree guardian spends $300 for a tree, they would have to use it for 12 years to break even. This length of time is over the average that most people keep artificial trees.
Myth 7: Fake trees are fire proof. This is simply false information - plastic trees catch on fire every year. According to a report from the National Fire Protection Association, 28% of home fires involving a tree were artificial ones.
Myth 8: Real trees have pesticides and chemicals on them. Myths such as this often get a foothold due to the disconnect that many people have with agricultural practices. Chemicals are used by farmers only when needed and only according to the specified instructions of the Environmental Protection Agency, the US Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. There has never been a research article suggesting that harmful levels of chemical residue exists on real trees. On the flip side, there have been studies showing a potential health danger of lead dust coming from plastic trees. In fact, the state of California requires a warning label on plastic trees and wreaths.
Myth 9: Real trees end up in landfills. A natural tree is 100% biodegradable, unlike an artificial tree, so even if it did end up in a landfill, it would break down. However, there are real tree recycling programs nationwide. If you live in a rural area, you can put your tree in a farm pond to help build fish habitat, or toss in to woods for small game habitat. When you see trees waiting on the curbs to be picked up for recycling, they are waiting for their next phase of life and will be reused as a natural product. They are not going to waste.
Myth 10: Real trees are a hassle and a mess. Yes, when you move the tree in and out of the house, you will need to vacuum. Hey, you probably needed to do it anyway, right? Yes, they do need to be watered each day, but what is a half of a minute between friends? Other than that, I am not sure why it would be a hassle…..get the kids off the couch and go get some fresh air and get a tree.
Real trees are a renewable, recyclable natural resource. Plastic, artificial fake trees are none of these things. Go green this holiday season and celebrate in style with a real tree. Visit Christmas Tree for more information.