ANNAPOLIS – The natural, fresh trees that many holiday revelers will have in their homes this Christmas season area a renewable, recyclable resource, good for the environment, according to the Maryland Christmas Tree Association.
Young, fast growing trees harvested by Maryland growers produce a lot of oxygen and provide several environmental uses, said Bill Underwood, association member and owner of Pine Valley Christmas Tree Farm in Cecil County.
Underwood said an acre of land, which can hold about 1,200 to 1,500 trees, can provide the daily oxygen requirement for 18 people.
When growers plant trees, they are also “creating wildlife habitat,” he said. Many growers said they have a wide variety of birds and other animals at their farms.
And the benefits don’t stop there, according to the association. The roots of these trees hold soil together to help control erosion and protect water supplies.
Officials with the U.S. Forest Service, Northeastern Area, agreed that a natural tree is environmentally beneficial. “It’s an environmentally sound choice,” said forester Lloyd Casey.
Real trees require less energy to produce than artificial trees, which are mostly petroleum based. The natural variety also burns cleaner when incinerated.
And Christmas trees can be bought with the roots attached so they can be replanted, the Forest Service said.
But even with the environmental benefits, Underwood said there is a widespread public misconception that Christmas trees are cut from the state’s forests. “Practically zero trees [are] cut from the wild,” he said.
Most trees are cut from plantations, “just like any other [agricultural] crop,” he said. Also, Christmas trees are usually grown on “land that is not really suitable for high intensity agriculture.”
Statewide, Underwood estimates there are about 300 to 350 active growers.
The Christmas tree industry is a relatively small business in Maryland, according to association officials. The state association has about 136 members, with an estimated 20 wholesalers and 62 choose and cut operations.
And Christmas tree sellers are expecting a good year.
“It looks like people are thinking about Christmas way ahead of time,” said Harold Eccleston, owner of Triple “E” Farm in Wicomico County. “I think we’ll do much better than we did last year.”
At the Triple “E” farm, “we replant every tree that is cut down and sold as a Christmas tree,” Eccleston said. “It’s a continuing source of environmental clean up.”
Harriet Caporin, who owns the Blue Heron Tree Farm choose- and-cut operation in Queen Anne’s County with her husband Ed, said, “If things continue … we think we’ll have a good year.”
While big retail stores bring in trees from other states and sell them cheaply, Caporin said the farm was more of a “family experience.”
Robert C. Giffen, owner of Mas-Que Farm in Annapolis, said “I’m optimistic” about this year’s sales. There was a time when artificial trees were taking over the market, but now there are more natural trees being sold, he said.
Giffen said his farm is a real “managed woodland,” home to about 20,000 to 25,000 trees.
Jeff Bender, spokesman for the Wisconsin-based National Christmas Tree Association, said, “As a whole, the industry seems to be on an upswing” in sales.
There were 37 million trees sold last year, an increase of 4.1 million trees over the previous year, Bender said.
He said the upsurge was mainly because the baby boomer generation seems to be going back to the “tradition of Christmas.” They grew up with a real tree and want their kids to enjoy the same, he said.
The national association estimates there are currently 15,000 Christmas tree growers in the U.S.
After the Christmas season ends, Christmas trees can continue to benefit the environment.
Bender said the association is sending out more information about the recycling of trees.
James A. Thomas, the state association’s national director and owner of Jarrettsville Nurseries in Harford County, said Harford “has a real good program.”
The county provides about eight sites where people can drop off their trees, which are then chipped and sold as mulch. Some local garbage companies may also pick up trees on specified dates, he said. Bender said that from the environmental benefits of growing Christmas trees to their many uses after the season is over, the trees are “a perfect circle.” -30-