Last year, festive people in search of a Christmas tree had an unusual problem—there weren’t a lot of Christmas trees to go around. Many small holiday farms were closed, citing that the trees were not ready and needed more time to grow.
This has been an ongoing problem for the last several years, and it doesn’t seem to be changing this year. With fewer Christmas tree farms open and more people interested in adorning their home with one, what is going on?
You can blame climate change.
Intense Weather Isn’t Good for Trees
Flooding, massive storms, draughts, extreme heat—pick your part of the country, and there’s probably some kind of intense weather going on right now. Sometimes, trees are forced to endure many of these weather events all at once, resulting in lackluster growth in small trees.
In the Pacific Northwest, a massive heat dome that killed hundreds of people two years ago caused all the needles to drop off of young trees. Although the tree was still alive, it wasn’t in any condition to be sold as a Christmas tree. Many farms opted to simply skip the season and let those trees recover.
New Cut Method Could Help
Christmas Tree farms are struggling because young trees are dying at an unprecedented rate. The first year or two of life is critical for them to be able to establish themselves. When these trees are stressed by drought or heat, it can disrupt their photosynthesis process.
This means the trees aren’t able to feed themselves properly, which means underdeveloped roots and slower growth. That is assuming they survive at all.
One Santa Cruz farm has chosen an innovative new method to try and resolve this. Glenn Church, owner of Church Christmas Tree Farms, is working to produce Christmas Trees despite the changing climate.
He uses stump culture—cutting his Christmas trees so that some green remains. When the tree still has green branches, rather than simply die the tree grows back. The strong roots established in the past help it to grow stronger and more stable.
He has also experimented with using non-traditional trees that do better in the current climate, including species like Arizona Cyprus. While these don’t look quite like the trees we’re familiar with, they do better in today’s more arid climate.
Other growers are selectively breeding their Christmas trees to better adapt themselves to climate. They’re doing this with a little help from researchers, who in 2021, began mapping the genome for conifers to try and find helpful adaptive genes.
The hope is to create trees resistant to root rot—a common problem in the warm, wet conditions expected to occur as the climate continues to warm. This research is still in progress, but it may be beneficial to forest management as well as Christmas trees.
Christmas trees are just one example of the many ways climate change is reshaping our world. Even if we limit how much our planet warms up, these problems are likely here to stay. Adapting is one way we can help improve our world, and help more species survive.