As in many parts of the United States, our interstate shipping system has made it possible for a variety of tree species to reach our local markets during the Christmas season. The surest way, however, to obtain the freshest tree possible for use in our homes and businesses is to choose one from our many choose-and-cut Christmas Tree farms throughout the state. The four species that make up the majority of sales on these farms are the Leyland cypress (x Cupressus leylandii), Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica Greene), Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana Mill.) and Eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana L.).
Leyland cypress comprises the largest number of trees sold each year on Louisiana choose-and-cut farms. In general, Leyland cypress cultivars have a narrow crown that is fully limbed to the base of the tree. They have medium green or blue-green foliage that forms long, compact branches with shoots that have a dark red or red-brown color. Their limber branches can sometimes make it difficult to hang heavy ornaments, although this problem can be overcome by shearing techniques to leave stouter branches on the tree tips. The most notable favorable characteristic of Leyland cypress is the longevity that the tree possesses after cutting. If properly watered, cut Leylands will last well into the New Year and have been known to be used as late as the Easter season!
Arizona cypress grows in a distinct pyramid shape and produces extremely dense foliage throughout the tree that is blue-green to gray-green in color. When anywhere in the vicinity of these trees, a distinct citrus odor can be detected. The bark is very delicate with a reddish-brown color and will split into strips along the length of the tree. While not noted for its longevity after harvest in the same manner as Leyland cypress, Arizona cypress when cut in early December will easily last until Christmas when properly watered.
Although not a native of Louisiana, Virginia pine can be successful grown in our state and, when properly sheared, will produce a beautiful Christmas tree. The needles of Virginia pine occur in pairs and are twisted. They range in length from 1.5 to 3 inches and are relatively short when compared to most of our other southern pines. The branches are very stout, which makes these trees an excellent choice for individuals wishing to use heavy ornaments. An intense demand for trees with enhanced Christmas tree characteristics has led to genetic improvement programs to produce growing stock favorable to our Louisiana growers. Virginia pine has a relatively long shelf life when cut and watered properly.
Eastern redcedar is most widely noted as a species that many southern families used for Christmas trees prior to the advent of Christmas tree farms. A wild, open-grown cedar tree was often chosen from a woodlot and served as the mainstay of the Christmas tradition. When properly planted and maintained, Eastern redcedar can be formed into a beautiful tree with a much straighter trunk and denser body than their wild counterparts. Their branches are compact and form a pyramidal crown on younger trees. As trees mature the tops tend to widen out unless properly sheared. The foliage is a dark, shiny green while the bark is a distinct reddish-brown.
Shop locally and support local businesses and the local economy. Contact your local Extension office at 728-3216 or drop by 702 Madeline Street, Rayville. Visit our website at http://www.lsuagcenter.com/en/our_offices/parishes/Richland.Keith Collins is the County Agent/Parish Chair in Richland Parish. This article will be published during the week of Thanksgiving in The Richland Beacon and the Delhi Dispatch.