- There are almost 350 million Christmas trees growing in mostly family-owned farms across the US.
- Christmas trees are threatened by drought, extreme heat, and other risks from the climate crisis.
- Both seedlings and mature Christmas trees have been lost this year, which threatens future harvests.
Live Christmas trees smell great, help produce oxygen, and are more sustainable than their plastic counterparts. At the end of the holiday season, they're usually turned into mulch. The conditions necessary to grow Christmas trees in the US are being threatened by extreme weather. As a result, there are fewer trees and higher prices.
Real Christmas trees refer to varieties like firs, spruces, and pines. They are an agricultural product that requires eight to 10 years of the right growing conditions before harvest.
There have been reports of droughts, wildfires, and other extreme conditions over the past several years. One of the latest was this summer's heat wave in the Pacific Northwest, which hit peak temperatures of 115 degrees Fahrenheit. The scorching highs in the region damaged about half a million trees, which was about 10% of the area's mature specimens, according to a spokesperson for the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA).
The remaining annual supply across the US is about 25 million to 30 million trees. If consumers are still shopping for trees, they should expect to pay 5 to 10% more compared with their purchase last year, a spokesperson for the organization told The New York Times.
There are nearly 350 million Christmas trees growing at farms across the US and in Canada, according to the NCTA. While they're grown in all 50 states, the top three locations are Oregon, North Carolina, and Michigan. Many of the farms are locally owned family operations that experienced higher demand last year.
But tree farming is suffering from frequent bouts of unexpected weather conditions — including low rainfall, known as drought, and periods of extreme heat.
One farm in Oregon City, Oregon, reported all of its seedlings this year were wiped out by insufficient rain. This compounded the losses of Christmas-tree seedlings in the state from hot, dry conditions between 2016 and 2018. There were especially high mortality rates during that period for noble firs, according to Oregon State University research.
Other climate-crisis issues affecting Christmas-tree farms include wildfires, disease, and air pollution. One family-run tree farm in Sacramento, California, suffered a loss of 40% of its larger trees to the Caldor wildfire after losing most of its seedlings to drought.
Phytophthora root rot has become a problem at farms in multiple states. The funguslike organism spreads in warm, wet conditions and damaged Christmas trees this year, which reduced inventory.
Air pollution, worsened by the climate crisis, can also hurt Christmas-tree development and growth. Penn State University entomology professor Ed Rajotte wrote, "Some experiments have shown decreases in tree hardiness and frost resistance due to an increase in ozone levels caused by pollution."
If carbon emissions and temperatures continue to rise, the iconic fragrant symbol of the winter holidays may become an increasingly rare luxury.
For what it's worth, my Christmas tree is made out of Legos.