Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

By Josh Morin
Special to the Courier 

Holiday traditions with evergreens


December 21, 2018

Courtesy Photo

The rare four-legged evergreen, often seen this time of year on porches in suburban landscapes.

December is here, nights are getting longer and the first official day of winter, Dec. 21, is right around the corner. The familiar sights and scents of evergreen plants are in the air, especially at the entryways and insides of our homes. Evergreen wreaths hanging on doors, Christmas trees strapped to the roofs of cars.

This time of year is a great opportunity for many of us to connect with nature, whether it is appreciating the scent from a wreath of cut branches, pruning some branches off one of our own plants for decoration, or gathering our families to go out and harvest and decorate a tree. The history behind these activities is old and ever evolving.

When it comes to modern Christmas trees, the tradition points back to Germany, and Europe as early as the mid 1500s. There are earlier traditions dating into the 1400s of decorating an outdoor evergreen tree for Christmas. The Christmas tree’s presence in North America is credited to early German immigrants or Hessian soldiers fighting in the Revolutionary War. However it didn’t become broadly popular until the mid-1800s when an image of the Royal Family in England with their Christmas tree was copied and published in the US.

The use of evergreen boughs and wreaths dates back much further. It reaches beyond any particular religion, even back to the time of Egyptians. The use of evergreens as decoration is linked to the upcoming Winter Solstice on Dec. 21. In the northern hemisphere, this is the day with the shortest period of sunlight. It marks the transition toward lengthening days and the arrival of spring. The green needles and leaves on evergreens have served as a reminder of the growth, life, and abundance that is to come as this far-off season approaches.

Evergreens are typically much better at conserving moisture in their leaves than deciduous trees. This has to do with leaf structure and chemicals in the plants.

When an evergreen tree is cut from its roots, it is essentially dead. However if you quickly place the cut stem in water you will allow the water conducting cells or xylem to move water up to the needles. This process, called transpiration, takes place as moisture moves out of the stomata, which are tiny openings in the needles. Shortly after trees have been cut, they produce a compound called ethylene. This is the same chemical that causes fruit to ripen. Ethylene is the main trigger for needles to begin dropping. Scientists have been able to significantly extend the needle life of cut evergreens by blocking ethylene production.

As you walk by these attractive additions to the winter celebration, you can appreciate another group of chemicals produced by trees called terpenes. These organic compounds are responsible for the lovely scents that plants give off. They are also the major components of products like turpentine, rosin, and the fresh pine scent used in many cleaning products.

Finally, some best practices to extend the viability of evergreens this holiday season:

● Keep cut evergreens in a cool place to avoid moisture loss.

● Make sure the cut stems of trees stay in water and make a fresh cut at the base to help improve water uptake.

Courtesy Photo

Holiday traditions with evergreens

● If you are using a live tree, keep it out of direct sun and keep it as cool as possible. Live trees should only be brought indoors for a few days to avoid breaking their dormancy and cold hardiness.

After the holiday season is over remember to remove any lights that have been wrapped around outside trees before the beginning of the growing season. There is nothing an arborist hates more than having to deliver the sad news that a neglected tree has been strangled by old Christmas lights.

Remember to take a moment this season and appreciate these wonderful green reminders of this bountiful planet. They have played a symbolic and meaningful role in our history for millenia.

Josh Morin is an ISA Board Certified Master Arborist and co-owner of Taddiken Tree Company, a locally owned and operated company.


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