Garden News Blog

Fashionable Firs

Grand fir
Abies grandis (grand fir) is one of the most popular species of Christmas tree in the U.S. Photo by John Hagstrom.

What’s the most popular Christmas tree species in North America? BBG’s Holiday Tree Key may provide a clue. The key lets users click through a series of questions about their tree’s characteristics to determine its species. By tabulating the page views during last year’s holiday season, we’ve come up with an admittedly not-quite-scientific ranking of the most common choices. And the winner is…the Douglas-fir, followed closely by the Fraser fir and grand fir. At first glance, the three species seem incredibly similar, which isn’t surprising since most people look for similar qualities in Christmas trees—good needle retention, nice fragrance, affordability. But using the key, an online version of what botanists call a dichotomous key, highlights the myriad of variations you’ll see when you look really closely at your tree. (Are the needles attached to small, woody projections or directly to the branch? Are they long or short? Do they spread upward or horizontally? Are the fine hairs on the twigs grayish or reddish?)

And that’s why it’s so much fun to use BBG's Tree Key. After all, you could simply ask the vendor what you’re buying, but doing your own investigation is a great way to really get to know that conifer occupying your living room this month. So start thinking of your Pseudotsuga menziesii as a lovely example of its species, not just a place to hang blinking lights and tinsel.

Sarah Schmidt edits BBG's Garden News Blog and the Guides for a Greener Planet handbook series.
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