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Real or artificial? Fascinating facts about Christmas trees

Real Christmas trees have a smaller carbon footprint than artificial trees. Special to The Forum1 / 3
holidays, new year and celebration concept - close up of christmas tree decorated with balls2 / 3
Don Kinzler, Growing Together gardening columnist for The ForumMichael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor3 / 3

Therapists might agree that an all-out, no-holds-barred blind pursuit of perfection might be considered unhealthy. Except in the pursuit of the perfect Christmas tree. Then it's OK.

Most of us have our own mental picture of tree perfection, and the search for the Holy Grail of Christmas trees leads some people to choose artificial, while others enjoy real.

Statistics easily show where the preference lies: Of American households that decorate Christmas trees, 81 percent of trees are artificial, while 19 percent are real.

Here are fun facts about Christmas trees:

• Seventy-seven percent of all American households will put up a Christmas tree this year.

• The first written record of Christmas tree decoration was in 1510 in Latvia.

• Christmas tree lots began in 1531 in Germany — the country most famous for Christmas tree popularity.

• German Hessian soldiers brought the first Christmas trees to Colonial America in 1777 as they were assisting Britain in the Revolutionary War.

• Thomas Edison's assistant developed the idea of using electric lights on Christmas trees in 1882.

• President Theodore Roosevelt banned the White House Christmas tree, out of environmental concerns, but naturalists of the day convinced him Christmas trees were instead beneficial.

• The first artificial trees were produced in Germany during Victorian times and made of feathers and wood.

• The artificial tree, as we know it, was developed in 1930, when toilet bowl brush manufacturer Addis Company dyed their brush bristles green and arranged them in branch shapes.

• Artificial tree popularity has increased steadily in the past 25 years from 46 percent of Christmas tree households to the current 81 percent.

• More real trees are sold each year than artificial. In 2016, 27 million real and 18 million artificial trees were sold. Artificial tree owners report keeping trees on average between 6 and 11 years. Real trees, of course, must be purchased every year.

• Real trees take an average of seven years from planting until harvest. American Christmas tree plantations involve 350,000 acres.

• Last year's average cost of a real tree was $51 and average cost of artificial was about $100.

The better environmental choice

People sometimes mistakenly feel it's a shame to cut down all those real trees. But in fact, Christmas trees are planted for that purpose as a crop, and it's not a cause for sadness, any more than harvesting a field of wheat to make bread.

While they're growing, Christmas trees replenish oxygen and neutralize carbon in the air and soil while providing wildlife habitat. Real trees benefit the environment and are biodegradable afterwards. For every tree harvested, replacements are planted.

A famous study was done a decade ago by Montreal's Ellipsos Company investigating the impact of artificial versus real trees on the environment.

Because most artificial trees are manufactured in Asian factories from polyvinyl chloride or polyethylene, they have a greater carbon footprint than real trees, even though artificial trees are used for multiple years.

The study indicated that an artificial tree must be kept for 20 years to be "greener" than a real tree. Most artificial trees end up in landfills, disposed of during municipal cleanup weeks.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler's Greenhouse in Fargo. Readers can reach him at forumgrowingtogether@hotmail.com.

He also blogs at " target="_blank">growingtogether.areavoices.com.

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