The great Christmas tree debate

ChristmasTreeHorticulturally-speaking, anything but real evergreens for the holidays would be akin to heresy. They should be drawn, quartered, disemboweled and burned at the stake, in any order. And then fed to the lions.

That includes everything from Christmas trees to swags to wreaths and garlands – even those decorations tucked into the table centerpiece for holiday dinners.

Thirty to forty years ago, artificial trees definitely looked artificial. The word “fake” comes to mind. Of course, this was also the era of the metallic silver tree with the external revolving light, which fascinated me when visiting my Arizona grandparents, who probably couldn’t find any really good evergreen.

Today, artificial trees are less “fake” and more “permanent botanical” in appearance. From a distance, they look 100 percent authentic. Only their perfection, which most real trees never achieve, sets them apart. Bend or prune out a couple of the limbs, cram the limbs together around the backside, and the tree takes on that unbalanced natural look that can pass for the real thing.

Mist some evergreen room fresheners, and you can almost pull off the illusion.

On the other hand, just look on the floor under the tree. If you don’t see any dropped needles, you can probably be sure the tree isn’t real. It’s surprising that some enterprising businessperson hasn’t packaged artificial “dropped needles” to sprinkle here and there around the artificial specimens.

However, there are some advantages to artificial trees.

First and foremost, they don’t dry out and become a fire hazard. Remember, your furnace will dry out the air for any living plant, especially any plant that was living a month or so ago before being cut. Artificial trees melt more than burn, but you don’t have the kindling a real fir, pine or spruce has with dry needles and limbs.

You don’t have to water them daily for the first couple of weeks, or until you start forgetting.

For evergreen decorations not in water, such as wreaths, swags and garlands, you definitely don’t have to worry about dry shedding needles and fire hazards. This allows

David Robson is Extension Specialist, Pesticide Safety for the University of Illinois.
David Robson is Extension Specialist, Pesticide Safety for the University of Illinois.

you to place the artificial evergreens over the mantel above the fireplace, or between the storm door and house door.

There are no needles to find next August stuck in the carpet, floor boards or chair cushions.

On the other hand, cats see no difference between either the fresh or artificial and will attempt to reach the angel or star on top.

And really, with so many artificial, fake, unreal, unnatural, bogus, phony, imitation, and every other thesaurus-found word, isn’t it just a little bit more pleasurable, and memorable to have the real thing, especially for kids of all ages?

Just remember — keep them fresh. And when they aren’t — get rid of them immediately. .