Sunday, December 16, 2007

We chose faux fir.

We put up the Christmas tree last night. It’s a cultivated Douglas Fir, a perfect, pruned cone, no gaps, no protruding branches, no personality. We never had such trees in Ontario, where I grew up. There the choice was densely-brushy scotch pine or a free-form balsam fir. We were a fir family. My father wouldn't allow us even to look at the pines, because they were crass. The firs we proudly took home were always to some degree bent-trunked, and with at least one gaping void, which would be turned to the wall. But those imperfections gave them personality --jaunty, or stoic, or menacing (the leaning one that eventually fell over onto the electric train set).

Here, there are many choices. In addition to Douglas fir (which is not a true fir, i.e., not genus Abies) there is grand fir, a native species that wins the Fragrance Award because it smells like grapefruit. But it is too feathery for most ornaments, so pass. Some tree lots also sell two non-native firs, the pricey but strikingly handsome Noble fir, known as "the Cadillac of Christmas trees," and the Fraser Fir, known as “the poor man’s 'Cadillac of Christmas trees'.” These trees have individualistic forms, providing significant personality potential. They also have significant size potential. If not chopped down and covered with tinsel when they reach about 8 years old, they can become enormous. Oops, sorry.

Worse, even the native ones for sale are not local. Many or most of the trees sold here are shipped from farms in Washington. That carbon footprint problem.

What if there were no Christmas tree lots where you live, if Safeway did not sell bundled up conifers, if you had to go out with saw and axe and scavenge a tree on your own? What choices would you have for Christmas treery?

What choices would we have here, assuming we agreed not to saw down a neighbour's exotic Sequoia, Deadora cedar or planted Douglas fir?

Sitka spruce is one option. It grew in patches on these islands, and would make an elegant, if lethally prickly Christmas tree. Unfortunately most were cleared in early days of settlement, so fat chance.

Another option is the western hemlock, the most graceful native conifer, characterized by sweeping feathery branches. It's much too pliable for ornaments, however, and has a tendency to drop all its needles if someone so much as cracks a walnut.

Shore pine exuding personality.

That leaves us with our most common native needle-bearer, the shore pine, which has the apt Latin name, Pinus contorta. Gnarled, bent, subject to galls and blisters from rust fungus, this weathered, tough tree is the dominant species in this bog. And one has to admit, it has personality.

Would I dare cut one down at the local park (even if that were legal, which it isn't) and thereby become a pine household? Of course not! We are not a pine family! We are a fir family! Genetics!

Except that we settled for a tree that isn't a true fir, a horticultured specimen that lacks personality. Why? Because the true ones cost thirty dollars more. That's a lot to pay for personality.

Lonely shore pine: "I'm not feeling the love."

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