Loyal to Christmas traditions, US consumers buy noble fur trees

By Margarita Snegireva. Christmas trees harvested in Oregon this year were mainly traditional noble or Douglas fir trees.

But a type of European fir, prized by growers for its hardiness, is slowly taking root in the state, which is the country's No. 1 producer of Christmas trees.

The Nordmann fir, a native of the Republic of Georgia , and the closely related Turkish fir are becoming increasingly popular in Oregon 's Christmas tree industry.

"They just seem healthier and stronger than the nobles. They look really good for us," said Betty Malone, who runs Sunrise Tree Farm in Benton County with her husband.

Nordmann and Turkish firs make up 3 percent to 5 percent of the harvest in Oregon, the AP reports.  

Douglas-fir is the common name applied to coniferous trees of the genus Pseudotsuga in the family Pinaceae. There are five species, two in western North America, one in Mexico and two in eastern Asia. The Douglas-firs gave 19th century botanists problems due to their similarity to various other conifers better known at the time; they have at times been classified in Pinus, Picea, Abies, Tsuga, and even Sequoia. Because of the distinctive cones, Douglas-firs were finally placed in the new genus Pseudotsuga (meaning "false Tsuga") by the French botanist Carrière in 1867.

The common name honours David Douglas, the Scottish botanist who first introduced the tree into cultivation in 1826. Douglas is known for introducing many North American native conifers to Europe. The hyphen in the common name indicates that Douglas-firs are not true firs; i.e. they are not members of the genus Abies .

The Douglas-firs are medium-size to large or very large evergreen trees, to 20-100 m tall. The leaves are flat and needle-like, generally resembling those of the firs. The female cones are pendulous, with persistent scales (unlike true firs), and are distinct in having a long tridentine (three-pointed) bract that protrudes prominently above each scale.

A Californian Native American myth explains that each of the three-ended bracts are a tail and two tiny legs of the mice who hid inside the scales of the tree's cones, which was kind enough to be the enduring sanctuary for them during forest fires.