There are many different species of trees that people use as Christmas trees. Each differs a little from the others in certain of its typical characteristics. Which is the best for you will be a function of many factors, including how long you intend to use the tree, how much you wish to spend, and matters of aesthetic taste in color, fragrance, shape, etc.
There’s also the factor of availability. Obviously not every species of Christmas tree will be readily available to you where you happen to live. But a few calls to local Christmas tree farms and lots should give you an idea of what your choices are. Here are a few of the more popular species:
1. Balsam Fir
The balsam fir is one of the longest lasting of Christmas trees when properly cared for, retaining its needles and pleasing scent. The tree is dark green, sometimes with a silvery tint. The needles are flat in shape, and range from less than an inch to 1.5 inches long. The branches are flexible and airy, and may not be able to hold your heavier ornaments.
2. Colorado Blue Spruce
The Colorado blue spruce ranges from dark green to a light powdery or grayish blue in color. The tree has a pleasing pyramidal shape, and the limbs are strong enough to hold heavy ornaments. Its needle retention is fairly good, though heat will cause the tree to shed more rapidly. The main drawback to this tree is its needles. The needles are 1 to 3 inches long, and stiff and sharp enough to scratch if not handled carefully. They emit a bad odor when crushed.
3. Concolor or White Fir
The concolor fir has an attractive shape and pleasing aroma. When young, the trees have a bluish tint, becoming a more dull green as they age. The tree’s needle retention is good. The needles range from less than an inch to 1.5 inches long, are pointed or notched at the top, and line up neatly in rows around the limb.
4. Douglas Fir
The Douglas fir is dark green to blue in color, with good needle retention. The needles are 1 to 1.5 inches long, soft, and emit a sweet fragrance when crushed. Some people find the tree awkward to decorate when trimmed to the traditional conical shape, with too little space between limbs.
5. Fraser Fir
The Fraser fir has an excellent Christmas tree shape. The limbs are slightly upturned and sturdy, and there is a bit of space between them, so it is ideal for hanging ornaments, including heavy ornaments. The tree is dark blue or silvery to green in color, with a pleasant scent. It has excellent retention of its 1 inch long needles.
6. Grand Fir
The grand fir is a common Christmas tree in Idaho and Montana, and to a lesser extent in Oregon and Washington and other states. It is a glossy, dark green color, soft, with branches that are not sturdy enough to hold some heavy ornaments. It has very good needle retention, with needles that are 1 to 1.5 inches long.
7. Leyland Cypress
The Leyland cypress is a common Christmas tree in the American South, dark green in color, becoming more bluish or grayish green as it ages. It has long, thin branches, not the strongest for heavy ornaments. It has excellent needle retention, with short, soft, pointed needles less than an inch long. The needles have a pleasant aroma when crushed, but otherwise the tree has little fragrance, plus because it is not a pine or fir it does not produce sap like most Christmas trees, and so may be a good choice for people with certain allergies.
8. Noble Fir
The noble fir is a deep green color, with upward turning branches that expose the lower branches. The branches are also stiff enough to hold heavy ornaments, so overall it’s one of the better Christmas trees for decorating. It’s a visually pleasing tree, its branches often being used for wreaths and garland. It has 1 to 1.5 inch long needles, with very good needle retention.
9. Norway Spruce
The Norway spruce, a popular choice of Christmas tree in Europe, is not native to the Americas but has been introduced to the northeastern United States and Canada. The tree is dark green in color, with a reddish bark and droopy branchlets. Its needles are a half inch to an inch long. It has the worst needle retention of any tree commonly used as a Christmas tree. It is unlikely to last more than one to two weeks before it sheds considerably.
10. Scotch Pine
The Scotch pine is the species of tree used most often for Christmas trees in the United States. It is one of the most long lasting of Christmas trees, with needles that rarely drop even if the tree is allowed to dry out. It is bright green in color, with a pleasant aroma. The needles are about 1 inch long, ridged, and can be sharp enough to scratch, so handle it with care. The branches are strong enough for heavy ornaments, though there is sometimes not a lot of room between branches to decorate the tree.
11. Virginia Pine
The Virginia pine is a small to medium size tree with thick branches and extremely dense foliage, strong enough to hold heavy ornaments. It is another very popular Christmas tree in the South. The tree is dark green in color, with a pleasant fragrance. It has excellent needle retention and will last longer than most Christmas trees. It has a small base that fits nicely into a stand. Its needles are 1.5 to 3 inches long, with an interesting, unusual twisted appearance.
12. White Pine
The white pine is bluish-green (not white) in color, and is the largest species of pine tree in the United States. It has little aroma, so it may be a good choice for people with allergies. The tree has good needle retention, with long needles of 2.5 to 5 inches long. The needles are soft, feathery and flexible, the limbs not quite as sturdy as some trees, so not the best choice if you intend to hang heavy ornaments. It tends to be a lush, full tree, so there’s not as much space to hang items as on some other species.
13. White Spruce
The white spruce is also a pleasing bluish-green (not white). Its needle retention is quite good. It has sturdy limbs, with stiff, short needles less than in inch long with a blunt tip. What many find to be its primary drawback is that when the needles are crushed, they release an unpleasant odor.
Marie Iannotti, “Choosing Your Christmas Tree.” About.com.
Coral Nafie, “Top 10 Choices for Christmas Trees.” About.com.
“Tree Species Characteristics.” National Christmas Tree Association.