WASHINGTON – There’s nothing like the fresh tangerine aroma of a silvery Christmas tree around the holidays — at least that’s what some Maryland Christmas tree growers are hoping to hear.
Adventuresome Christmas tree farmers across the state are starting to break away from the typical Douglas fir and Scotch pine trees and are growing exotic trees from as far away as New Zealand, Turkey and China.
There is not a strong market for the trees yet, but growers in Hagerstown and on the Eastern Shore who dabble in the non-traditional trees think they may be riding the next wave.
“I think it’s going to be marketed as time goes by and customers learn about it,” said Jay Bozman of P&J Tree Farm in Delmar.
“As people see more of them, the customers are going to be asking for them. Right now there’s so few that most customers haven’t seen them [the exotic trees] yet,” he said.
A tree is considered exotic if it is growing outside its natural habitat. Bozman buys seedlings for his farm from nurseries that have collected seeds from Turkey, India, China and Russia. They include trees that have different needle patterns, colors ranging from blue and silver to a very dark green, and even lemon, orange and mint scents.
“People will come back and say, ‘Give me one of those tangerine trees,’ and I’ll know exactly what they’re talking about,” said Marshall Stacey of Pinetum Enterprises, the largest Christmas tree farm in Maryland.
They are talking about Stacey’s favorite tree, the concolor fir or white fir. The tree, native to the mountains of the West, has dense foliage, white splotches and a strong citrus aroma.
“A lot of people like something different and want a different type of tree each year,” Stacey said.
Exotics are not a new fad, Stacey said, but they area still just a tiny portion of the trees grown on the hundreds of Christmas tree farms in the state.
“Originally, everybody had a balsam tree farm,” Stacey said. “Gradually people started fooling around.”
He said it is difficult to get the extremely rare seedlings and sometimes even harder to get them to survive Maryland’s climate.
Stacey said he tries to grow a new variety of exotic tree every other year, but not all trees can survive Garrett County’s harsh winters. But he plans to keep on trying.
Bozman also said he plans to continue experimenting to find other types of exotic trees that can survive in his area, but will not give up on any of the more traditional trees. So far, he said, he has not found a tree that could not hack it in Eastern Shore weather.
Bozman, who farms more than 20,000 trees, has planted 500 of each of four types of exotic pine trees. But he said they will not be large enough to harvest as Christmas trees for about five years.
By then, he hopes the craze will have caught on.
“For the new millennium … growers need to be aware that they must be always looking at new trees to grow,” Bozman said. “You have to have a lot more variety for today’s shoppers.”