|Postage stamp from Åland (between Sweden and Finland) showing people |
(with saw in hand) bringing home the Christmas tree.
(c) Posten Åland, fair use (link)
Nowadays, the Christmas tree plantations grow a wide variety of conifer species that might not be local to your area. If you get a tree from a supplier, then the tree might come from far away. So, finding out what tree you have standing in your living room might not be that simple.
The National Christmas Tree Association has nice photos and descriptions of the most common species. Brooklyn Botanic Garden also has a great clickable key to Christmas tree species with images and descriptions of 15 common species. (Update: Max Payne also has a nice page with descriptions of common Christmas tree species, including several Cupressaceae species.)
First, most Christmas trees are either FIRS (Abies), SPRUCES (Picea), DOUGLAS FIR (Pseudotsuga). or PINES (Pinus). All of these are conifers and have leaves called needles, and cones (except, you rarely see cones on young trees used for Christmas). These plants are quite easy to tell apart and they all belong to the pine family, Pinaceae. See key below.
|US Postal stamps showing balsam fir, blue spruce, ponderosa pine and eastern red cedar. |
(c) USPS, fair use (link)
1a. Are the needles clustered 2-5 together? Yes - it is a pine (Pinus).
1b. Are needles single? Yes - it is a fir, douglas fir, or spruce. Go to 2.
2a. Are the needles square in cross-section and green underneath? Yes - it is a spruce (Picea).
2b. Are the needles flat in cross-section and have two white bands underneath? Yes - it is a fir or douglas fir. Go to 3.
3a. The buds at the end of each branch have a sharp tip and are elongated. Yes - it is a douglas fir (Pseudotsuga).
3b. The buds at the end of each branch are blunt at the apex and round. Yes - it is a fir (Abies).
|White pine. |
Public domain image by Hardyplants, Wikipedia.
Needles 5 together:
- White pine (Pinus strobus) - green to bluish green, needles 5 together, 5-12 (2-4") cm long
- Scots pine [older name: Scotch pine] (Pinus sylvestris) - green, sometimes silvery, needles 2 together, 4-7 cm (2-3") long
- Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana) - green to yellowish green, needles 2 together, 4-7 cm (2-3") long
|Norway spruce branch. |
(cc) Wikipedi, Wikipedia.
Bluish or greyish tree
- Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens) - blue green, needles 2-3.5 cm (1-1 1/4") long, with sharp tip
- White spruce (Picea glauca) - bluish to bluish green or gray, needles 1-2 cm (3/8-3/4") long, with blunt tip
- Norway spruce (Picea abies) - dark green, needles 1-2.5 cm (1/2-1") long (drooping branches)
|Douglas fir branch with cones. The cones are unique, |
look at those bracts hanging out betweenthe scales, nothing else looks like that.
(cc) Walter Siegmund, Wikipedia.
- Douglas-Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) - green to blue green, needles soft, 2-4 cm (3/4-1 1/4") long
|Needles of White Fir showing white lines underneath.|
(cc) Walter Siegmund, Wikipedia.
Needles with two white lines above
- Concolor Fir [White Fir] (Abies concolor) - green to bluish green, needles 2-5 cm (1 1/4-2") long (needles with sharp apices)
- Caucasian Fir ["Nordmann"] (Abies nordmanniana) - dark green, needles 1.8–3.5 cm (2/3-1 1/2")
- Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea) - dark green, needles 1-4 cm (3/8-1 1/2") long (needles with blunt, notched apex)
- Fraser Fir (Abies fraseri) - silvery to dark blue green, needles 1-2 cm (1/2-1") long (twigs with red hairs)
- Grand Fir (Abies grandis) - green, needles 2-5 (1/2-2") cm long (twigs with grey hairs, needles with blunt, notched apex)
- Noble Fir (Abies procera) - silvery, needles 2-4 cm (1-1 1/2) inches long (needles turn upwards along branches)
Post updated 28 January 2014 with new information provided by MF.